Monday, May 20, 2013

Stories and Secrets

Years ago I was counseling a couple who intended to be married. I didn’t know the young lady all that well, but I was familiar with her fiancé. While speaking with her alone one day, she made the most painful yet intriguing comment to me, while expressing concern that he wasn’t all that in love with her. “I don’t show up in any of his stories with his friends. It’s almost like I am a secret, or worse, he is ashamed of me.” Long story short, he wasn’t ashamed, he was unsure, and the relationship ended. The moral of the story: You haven’t been included in his world, until you are included in his stories. If you are a bit player in his conversations with others, you can bet you are bit player in the drama of his life. Adjust accordingly. Anyway--

You can tell a lot about a person by listening to their stories. Whom all does he talk about most and in what light? Of the people you know who are in her world, who does she never or rarely speak of in her stories? What is the single most recurring theme? Are his stories usually uplifting, debasing, thought provoking, or clownish? What is the predominating emotional state of the storyteller: Caring? Anger? Hopeful? Bitter? Loving? Argumentative? Curiosity? Belittling? Encouraging? Scoffing? The prevailing emotional state or attitude is often telling a far more interesting and revealing story than the one being spoken!

Our stories reveal our secrets more often than we realize. There is the entertainer who keeps us all laughing so as to not see his pain. Then there is the victim (always blaming) whose stories seek to elicit our pity or “admiration” for all she has suffered at the hand of evildoers. One of the more fascinating “storytellers” (to me) is the guy who rarely if ever tells his stories: the man who witnesses life but rarely participates in it. Even when he does tell a story … it belongs to someone else.  

Whatever the specific micro-story and mindset of the storyteller, I think most people are wanting to tell the story of their lives but are fearful, so it comes out haltingly, in bits and pieces, maybe with defensive humor, or biting sarcasm, or the false-bravado of nonchalance. Even the most private of individuals can’t help but share something of his or her story. Why? Because we long to be psychologically visible: not to everyone, but, at least, to someone.

In his book, Telling Secrets, Frederick Buechner writes of how important it is to tell our story to someone lest “we run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are and little by little come to accept instead the highly edited version which we put forth in hope that the world will find it more acceptable than the real thing.” Telling my story reminds me of who I am, where I have come from, and where I am going. Telling my story, secrets and all, keeps me grounded in the reality of my journey, which helps to keep me from taking off on a yellow brick road trip where I end up living out a story that belongs to someone else.

Copyright, Monte E Wilson, 2013

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