‘What if we agreed that there is always more to us than one essay, one conversation, one moment, one admission? People are nuanced and complex; we are not just the organizations we lead, the coalitions we identify with, the drums we beat, the churches we belong to, the friends we keep, that one thing we said or did.’
‘Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.’
[Anne of Green Gables]
I love that C.S.Lewis quote ‘We read to know we’re not alone’. It is a powerful thing to find company in the pages of a book. It is why I read a novel every single night in bed. It’s why I read memoirs and poetry and blog posts and the psalms. It’s why, as a special needs English teacher, when people tell me the most important thing is ‘functional literacy’, I say no, the most important thing is story.
We read to know we’re not alone. We read for the relief and hope of “Me too”.
Anne Lamott says “Me too” is the most powerful sermon in the world. I know I am always listening for it, looking for it, measuring how worthwhile a book or conversation is, right up against it.
It’s a powerful, beautiful thing. I thought I was the only one. I’m not.
And it’s the same when I write. I discover I’m not as alone as I thought I was. All the filters I had about who could relate to me were wrong. When people say “me too” it’s a powerful, beautiful thing.
But there’s another powerful thing: when we can’t say “Me too”, but we pay attention to someone’s story anyway.
Last weekend I wrote about struggling in a big church. Two nights later the minister of that big church sat in my living room and asked questions and listened and made me feel known. Some of our conversation centred around Rachel Held Evans‘ new book ‘Searching for Sunday’ which he is reading and which he, quite rightly, recommended to me. And here’s the thing: he is reading it even though her experience is different to his. He says it’s not his story, but he can understand it.
I love that – honouring someone’s story even when you don’t feel the “Me too” – listening, noticing, realising it is important. He told me to keep writing, even though I wrote something that disheartened him the first time he read it.
Brené Brown has influenced me a lot in recent years and I love this quote of hers:
Owning our story is hard. The recovering people-pleaser in me wants a different one, maybe one they could use in a glossy church brochure. Telling our story is hard. As I have written before – we don’t want anyone to laugh at us or raise their sceptical eyebrows or to simply not pay attention.
But Brené Brown is right, it is worth it, and not nearly as hard as running from it. I have been blessed with the healing “me too”, both in what I read and what I write. But this week I have been blessed with something else too, and I wonder, do I look for like-mindedness too much? What do I lose, or miss, in my quest for ultimate compatabilty?
Sometimes I read something that is beautiful and healing, but then I pick it up like armour, like an argument. I use it as cement to set my part-formed feelings against some other way of thinking. What-she-said-not-what-he-said-kinda-thing. My story’s more valid than your story.
I remind myself of the recurring rally-cry of the West Wing: “Let Bartlet be Bartlet.” I remind myself that politicians, leaders, ministers, all of us, lead best and live best as ourselves. So I believe in owning my own story? Then, I believe in others owning theirs, too.
This week Connie Hunter owned her story with courage and made public a blog she began writing 3 weeks after her husband Craig died unexpectedly. It is worth carving out some time and reading every entry. Her writing is a gift to anyone who can relate to her pain, they will feel less alone. But her writing is also a gift to those of us who can only imagine. You can read it here.
I will always read to know I’m not alone (my go-to-writers with their fragile faith, anxious thoughts and unconventional ways). But I also read to be stretched, informed, enriched, changed and provoked. I read to be moulded. I read to add something to my character, and experience. I read to have access to other souls and other minds. I read to access collected wisdom. I read to know what it’s like for someone else.
What about you? What helps you to own your story? Do you default towards stories that comfort or challenge you? How can we honour each other?