Thursday, January 06, 2005

No story but my own.

This morning, the children and I read the final chapter of The Horse and His Boy, one of The Chronicles of Narnia books. I’m no fan of science fiction or even mildly fantasy-based novels, but I have thoroughly enjoyed this series. In this book, two young children, Shasta and Aravis, escape the tyranny of cruel parents on the backs of talking horses who carry them back to Narnia. On the way they fight bloody battles, face evil princes, and are stalked by a vicious lion. Or so they think. The lion, of course, is Aslan, the king of Narnia, the protector of all that is good, the defender against all that is evil, and also the instigator of all that befalls these two children throughout their fantastical journey. Aslan is one of our favorite characters from any book we’ve ever read, and we have loved analyzing his words and actions as we work our way through the series. I highly recommend this series to any parent looking for some thought-provoking, challenging, unexpectedly deep conversations with their children.

This is my favorite book in the series so far because of one line that Aslan repeats to both of the main characters in the course of the story. Shasta asks Aslan why he (Aslan) had attacked Aravis one night. Aravis asked Aslan if her servant would be repeatedly punished for her (Aravis’) bad behavior. And in both cases, Aslan’s response is the same: “I am telling you your story, and not hers. I tell no-one any story but his own.”

Every morning when I tell Daniel it’s time to stop playing Play Station or watching ESPN so he can get dressed and ready for school, he protests. He gives me a hard time before every shower, but once he’s in the water, he doesn’t want to come out of there. Every morning when I tell Kristiana it’s time to stop dreaming and get out of bed so she can get dressed and ready for school, she protests. She gives me a hard time about cleaning up her room, but once it’s done, she doesn’t want to come out of there either. After every frustrating encounter with them, I walk away from them with my hands raised high, asking, “When are they going to just internalize the routine and do it without prompting or protest? Don’t they realize how much freedom there is in discipline and routine?” Steve and I have our own set of repeated verbal and mental jab-fests, and I walk away from every one of them asking, “When is he going figure out that my way of doing things is usually best and just stop the protesting?” Finally, I know the answer to all of those questions and so many more: “Gail, I am telling you your story. I will tell you no story but your own.”

It’s not my job to discern, diagnose, and treat their personality quirks and disorders (that’s the judgmental part of me talking). It’s not my responsibility to write, edit, or direct the life chronicles of anyone in my household. I may play a bit part in their productions. I may even play a leading role, but their stories are their stories, not mine. I cannot know, I will never know, and I don’t even need to know what story “Aslan” is telling them. I don’t need to know why they get hurt, why they are afraid, why they get overwhelmed by things that don’t bother me. I don’t need to know what my children will become when they grow up; I don’t even know what or where or who I will be when I grow up – and I’m 39 already!

When I eventually bring the internal diatribes to a halt, when I quiet the voices of spiritual, moral, and intellectual superiority that boom through the loudspeakers of my mind, I recognize that the way that I do things works quite well for me. Period. I cannot foist my system of thought, of being, of living onto anyone else and expect to see the same results in their lives. The story of my life is my story. It’s not Steve’s story or Kristiana’s story or Daniel’s story. I cannot overstate how extremely difficult it is to withhold "my ageless wisdom" from my family most of the time. I want to give my daughter four easy steps for maintaining a neat room every day. I want to give my son four simple reasons why showering and then having me slather Eucerin onto his extremely dry skin should be received as a pleasure and not a punishment. I want Steve to know what I’m thinking without me even needing to tell him – but that’s fuel for a different blog fire… (Obnoxious, repugnant self-flagellation intended and necessary!)

The simple truth is that it is impossible for me to know or comprehend anyone else’s story. I spend hours every day reading, writing, reflecting, rereading, rewriting, meditating, wondering, talking to myself, and I can barely make sense of my own life. I am always honored and humbled, but also downright befuddled when people tell me that they think I know myself well, that I am good at expressing myself, and that I inspire them to think more clearly about their own lives. Most of the time, I feel like my life is being lived out in one language, Greek, for example, and I’m doing the best I can to keep up with the interpreter (my brain) which speaks very little Greek, but is fluent in Russian and Urdu. Much of what happens in and around me seems to be lost in translation. So I bluff my way through life, nodding politely, smiling broadly, and hoping all the while that I haven’t ordered the deep-fried Rocky Mountain oysters instead of the oriental chicken salad I love so much.

In moments of quiet and in moments of desperation, I pour my soul onto my journal pages and try to make sense of the mostly undecipherable noise of life. When I am honest with myself, which is happening more and more these days, I admit that with my non-existent linguistic prowess in Greek, Russian, and Urdu, I have very little hope of helping Steve, the kids, or anyone else make out the plot line of their own lives. I’m learning to love them and cheer them on from backstage, not from the director’s chair.

Thanks, Aslan, for telling me to mind my own business. Next time I throw my hands up and ask “When will they learn?” please remind me that I haven’t learned much yet myself. Above all, please don’t ever let me change the channel from the spine-tingling, back-tracking, exciting, funny, sad, enlightening, tearful, joyful, confounding, exhilarating story that is my life.

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