Sean loved the concept of story. This definitely fueled his passion for film. He had such a desire to help people tell their stories. His journals are peppered with sketches of storyboards and ideas he had for films. When we were first getting to know each other, he would constantly ask me to tell him a story from my life.
“Tell me a story” became a common and irritating phrase that I began to know him by. Ironically (and maybe providentially), I really lack confidence with my voice or ability to tell a story. Even the value of the content of my life’s stories is a source of insecurity, for that matter. Sean’s initial requests for stories grated against my insecurities and often ignited frustration in our early interactions. “If you want to know something about me, ask me a question!” Would usually be my response, frustrated with his seeming inability to provide a space in which I felt I could be heard.
Oh, how I was incredibly wrong about him in that way.
Oh, how glad I am to have known such a person who heard and saw me more deeply than I had ever known.
Sometimes I feel like my life has become this cosmic ritual, continuously living out the narrative that Sean isn’t here. I wake up from the bed that I sleep in, alone. I brew enough for two cups of coffee in the morning, and only drink one (it never feels right to make just enough for one). I take care of the cats, and my own apartment, and live the new life that I’ve stepped into, in response to the beautiful life and the dreams and the person that was ripped apart from me.
I repeat it all the next day.
At times it feels like who I am is an embodied narration of the absence of Sean. I can’t escape it; it is my story.
Sometimes I don’t really want a different story.
This weekend I went away with my class on a student/faculty retreat, where we constructed ‘life maps’ of the histories of our lives, and reflected on them with one another to gain a deeper perspective of the stories our lives are telling.
How God has been unfolding the stories of our lives, from the beginning.
How our lives are enveloped in the larger story that God is unfolding in the world.
This experience of seeing the value of the stories that make up my life, as part of a narrative that God is creating, allowed me to open to new ways of understanding my life. New ways of understanding the journeys of other people. The stories we are living out. There is something grounding and freeing about beginning to see your life as a whole living narrative, instead of a paper chain stringing together pleasant and painful memories.
An infusion of purpose, and direction, and intentionality. A sense of safety in the events of my life as held in the hands of the one who created me.
In the last few years it has felt impossible to see my life in anything but two chapters: before and after Sean’s death. The defining moment of my life. It was painful and vulnerable to tell my story this weekend in a way that includes Sean as one integrated and incredibly important part of it, but not the beginning and end of it. Perhaps now the scope of my vision is starting to expand. I’m growing to see Sean in my life as a beautiful, incredible gift from God. A sense of home with someone who really saw me, and who heard my voice. A space to be seen and loved for who I am.
I can see now, since he died, the many other people God has placed in my life who give me the space to be heard. In a way that will never replace who Sean is to me, and in a way that expands my understanding of community and friendship. That reflects God’s love to me in ways that are different. Through the story of my life, at this point, I can recognize my deep longing to be seen and to have a voice. I can see the ways that God has woven into the story people who really see me, and encourage my voice. This echoes healing into the the hurts and dark places of my life that I’d rather not relive. Places that carry pain or bitterness, or even numbness.
And through these people, my scope of God expands. He sees me, and gives me space to be heard.
He has been seeing me the whole time.
I know that this is just the beginning of recognizing the coherence of my whole of my story, and there is so much more to uncover. The archaeological dig of a life requires investing effort in order to uncover. To remember, to recount, to receive, to reflect. It is a life-long process, is painful and vulnerable, and carries so much value in discovering what’s underneath the surface of a life’s story.
What is the story your life is telling?