I was at a social justice conference once when a well known storyteller got up to speak. I settled comfortably into my chair, preparing to be inspired.
He told a great (and very short) story, and then sat down. I thought he was just taking a break – maybe a musical interlude or dramatic pause – and then he’d get up to tell us what the story meant or how we should apply it to our lives.
Nope. Nothing. That was it. End of story.
I felt cheated. It was, after all, a social justice conference. We’d come to be inspired, to take home a toolkit full of take-aways and lessons-learned. If I remember correctly, his story didn’t even seem to have a social justice lens. It was just a story.
But was it?
The truth is, it stuck with me throughout the day, and into the week – long after I’d forgotten the take-aways from other talks or workshops.
One of the things I learned from his story is this: we don’t always need to hear the moral of the story. Sometimes, in fact, there is no moral. There’s just story. And the story becomes what each of us needs it to be. (Kind of like Jesus’ parables, right?)
I am a meaning-maker, a metaphor-finder, and a teacher. I like to follow story threads to their natural conclusions and then wrap the threads into neat little bows that allow you to take the stories home in pretty little packages to unwrap later. I’m used to shaping my ideas into teaching tools so that you have useful takeaways. It’s what I do and it’s often what I expect others to do.
But sometimes I try too hard and sometimes I do the story a mis-service by giving it only one shape when perhaps what you needed was a different shape entirely. Perhaps the story is still what you need, but through your lens it looks different and I’ve just ruined that for you by prescribing my own shape to it.
I’m finding lately that I’m growing somewhat weary of blog posts and social media updates, mostly because there seems to be too much expectation that we make sure every story has a moral, and every thread is tied.
We want to make sure we’re offering “good content”, and so we tie those threads. The blogging professionals remind us of how many extra hits we get when we can give “helpful tips for an easier life” or “do-it-yourself advice for ending the story as successfully as I did”, and so we give every story a nice juicy moral that readers can apply to their lives.
In doing so, sadly, we lose some of the messiness (and beauty) of life. We take out the really raw bits, because they don’t fit into neatly tied packages. We don’t tell the stories that end unhappily or not at all. We ignore the journeys that don’t conclude in simple and profound destinations.
This is one of the blocks I’ve had lately. This blog is now part of my business, and so I should be giving you good content that will keep you coming back for more. I should be offering you neatly tied packages. And I should do that on a regular basis so that you’ll come back often. And I certainly shouldn’t post this blog near midnight on a Friday. It’s blog suicide.
Unfortunately, many of my stories are messy and rarely do they come to me at appropriate blogging times of day. And often they don’t fit into clean frames or end with simple-to-communicate morals. Many of them are just little pieces of my journey and so the end is simply the beginning of something new. Sometimes (like when a man climbed through my window and raped me more than twenty years ago), it takes me years and years to process the lessons I’m meant to take away from a story. And even when I think I’ve learned all there is to learn, something new shows up a few years later and I realize the story hasn’t finished unfolding itself in my life.
And yet… I know those stories, as messy and unfinished as they are, are worth sharing. So I’ll keep offering them to you, but sometimes I won’t bother tying the threads together. I’ll let you find your own threads and see how those threads weave into your stories.
I am reminded, once again, of one of my favourite quotes.
“I’m not a teacher, only a fellow-traveler of whom you asked the way. I pointed ahead – ahead of myself as well as you.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Traveling is what I do. It’s what we all are doing. I haven’t reached the destination, so I can’t give you the “moral of this life-long story”. But maybe I can help you navigate some of the rocks that tripped me up.
Where am I going with all of this? I don’t know for sure. I haven’t figured out a way to end this post with a neat little moral either.
So I’m just going to leave you with what it is… some of the thoughts finding space in my head.