When I took this photo in Austin last Sunday, I was on a twelve-mile walk in preparation for an epic adventure, walking 136 miles over the course of a week in New England. In my story, today I would be arriving in Boston to greet my fellow adventurers on the eve of our great excursion.
I am not on my way to Boston. I am not walking 136 miles this week. Somewhere between Little Rock and Bowling Green, my plans changed. Not only did I have to rethink my whole week, process my extreme disappointment at not participating in an event to which I had been looking forward and for which I'd been training all summer long, but because I am homeless and on a limited budget, I also had to figure out where to go for the next few weeks.
Cue a very very tiny violin.
Over the course of these past few weeks, people and animals all over the world have had their plans radically changed. They have lost their homes, loved ones, and seen their plans decimated -- not just for the coming week, but for the future. And with three hurricanes bearing down, huge sections of our country on fire, earthquakes, tsunamis and floods, not to mention life-altering laws and legislations being put in place, more people are fleeing disaster, with no idea what they will find when they return "home".
LIVE A GREAT STORY: That's what I read last weekend. How inspiring! How epic! How cool!
At times like these, however, when we're in the midst of our stories, often they feel anything but inspiring, epic, or cool. They feel like fear. They feel like grief. They feel like tough decisions. They feel like anxiety. They feel like loneliness. They feel like sorrow. They feel like the kind of story that no one would ever write, and certainly no one would ever want to read.
LIVE A GREAT STORY: How?
When we're just trying to survive whatever it is we are facing, thriving seems like some pie-in-the-sky Disney movie idea that has no bearing on life itself.
LIVE A GREAT STORY: What is a great story anyway?
Neil Gaiman believes that "stories are genuinely symbiotic organisms that we live with, that allow human beings to advance." (To read more about what the always insightful Gaiman has to say about stories, please click here: GAIMAN ON STORY) Brene Brown teaches that humans are hardwired to learn through story. In other words, stories are how we understand the world and so live our stories forward. Adrienne Rich believed that "the stories of our lives become our lives."
Clearly stories are something far more vital, resilient and fluid than static words on a page to be read later. To live a great story then, means that whatever we are doing right now is the story we are living -- it is what we will remember, what we will learn from, and how we will move forward from here. To live a great story then, means that every choice we make not only writes the stories of our lives that others will read, but also determines how we ourselves will live our lives forward.
Why does this matter?
It is pretty clear that our planet is at a huge crossroads on every level imaginable. We can look outside of ourselves and blame the fires, the floods, the weather, the politicians -- or can we? Is it not the stories that have been lived up till now that are unfolding before our very eyes? There is not a scientist on the planet who doesn't believe that the changes we are witnessing on our planet are a direct result of the way we humans have chosen to live. That means, just as I hated to give up on my best-laid and eagerly-anticipated plans to spend my week on an epic adventure with friends, we are all, kicking and screaming and dragging our heels, going to have to start giving up on our best-laid and most eagerly-awaited plans for our futures -- if we are going to have to have a future at all. We are going to have to be willing to rethink our plans and our plots, if we are going to give future generations the chance to live their own great stories.
Ursula K. LeGuin, who wrote some of the stories I loved most as a young person, wrote this: “The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty: not knowing what comes next.” What a powerful paradox! Where most of us have been taught to wrangle the intolerable discomfort of not knowing what comes next into submission by living a life based on plans and solid structures and life savings, LeGuin realized that the ONLY thing that makes life possible is the permanent truth of change. When we resist change, we damn the flow of life. From there, well, we end up here -- in a world where everything appears to be going to hell in a very rickety handbasket.
LIVE A GREAT STORY: "Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore!"
No, we are not.
To live a great story means that we must stop looking to the past for our plots or to the future for our plans. We must stop being afraid of the change we are seeing right here, right now, and recognize instead that our only chance to continue writing stories at all entails the acceptance of what is happening. In fact, we must acknowledge that the changes we are seeing are our ONLY chance to live a great story. The bushes are burning all around us. Will we listen and walk where we are being led? Or will we just keep up writing the same old same old story, until we can no longer write at all? What we do right now as a planet, what we do right now to help our fellow human beings and our animal neighbors, what we do right now to make different choices in our own lives, these are our only chances to live a great story.
I was supposed to be on an epic walking adventure this coming week. I am already on it. We all already are. We are all in the midst of an epic journey the likes of which this planet has never seen. Every step we take bears consequence. Every life we touch can change the world. And every word in every sentence on every page in every chapter of the story of the world that we are all writing matters.
Let us consider our thoughts, our ideas, our beliefs, our words, and our actions with more care than ever -- and let us all begin to write the story we all wish to live. A story of compassion and care and concern and hope and help and healing -- for us all.
LIVE A GREAT STORY. Word by word. Chapter by chapter. Right here. Right now. The story we live today is the world we will all inhabit tomorrow. Write the story that will save the world. We have no other choice!