Every person has a story. Some are loudly beautiful, others are woven with care and introverted intricacy, but most are ignored. Young people have stories, but their stories are short—we often try to make them longer by writing new chapters on top of much greater words. But not all stories are ever read. Those of us with the longest and most dramatic and touching stories are not asked to share; we are forgotten in nursing homes, in public schools and busy streets, between cinder walls and broken windows. Great stories come from a Great Author, and we can’t choose which rental we have checked in this awesome library home of Earth. There are stories written in languages I will never speak. There are stories written in pictures and silent emotion. There are stories in my living room. There are stories in my classroom sitting across from me, in the checkout lane at Walmart, in a bag of French fries and off the balcony of a restaurant only the elect will ever see.
Most people like happy endings for stories. There is a certain uneasy feeling and overwhelming sense of loss that comes with seeing a story end in starvation, in death or health crisis, in a bitter and broken final breath. I understand that comedies are beautiful. They are a break from reality. It’s nice to feel at peace, even if the happy ending we hope for hasn’t come yet.
But stories aren’t stories. We look at them printed in our textbooks, they flicker across our many screens, they entertain our children, who are clearly too young to have stories of their own. Like Mario and Pac-man, our stories become casual, entertaining, exciting, and fake.
I have judged many people lately. I have cast wounds that I did not intend to leave, and I still don’t understand exactly what I did wrong. I can tell that many people think that I should not share so much about my story, their rationale changes, ebbing and flowing across contexts of mildly wrong to worthy of utter shame and somehow, horror. “If you are a screeching cymbal today, you will be an outcast tomorrow,” their snap judgments tell me.
“But wait—I say. “Have you heard my story?”
A story isn’t a story unless it is written. A story can’t be a story at work (I still am waiting for clarification on this one, I swear). A story isn’t good for other people. A story is meant to just be a story. We watch stories or read them because we choose them. We choose them because they make sense. They make sense because they’re just a story, and after all, stories don’t end.
But stories do end. Stories ended just a moment ago. More stories just ended than I can imagine. We try to paint and dance and write our stories, but why does it hurt to breathe them like they were ours? Why do we take ownership of everything but our stories? We take ownership of strangers’ stories. We take ownership of our children’s stories. We take ownership of the story of all of creation, apart from the stories we are.
Not all stories have happy endings. Not all stories are over. Not all stories are for sharing when it’s time to share stories. And not all stories end either.
Our lives our precious. Our thoughts are unique. Don’t make fun of me for being a special snowflake if you refuse to let your snowflake be just as intricate. My snowflake may look like a terrible mess right now, but how will I know what snowflakes are if I only know that snowflakes look like messes? How will other snowflakes accept intricacy and individuality if they only can be the special kind of snowflake that comes as clipart on Microsoft office or printed in Christmas bulletins?
I have judged many people lately. I have retaliated instead of accepted that stories are stories even if they aren’t told. I have been angry when others have become angry; because my story has a happy ending they can’t see. I gave greater anger than I received. I lied consistently without realizing how terribly selfish I was being. I was rude, but I thought it was necessary to tell my story, and I’ve already offended all the people that don’t care to know it. There is a certain peace that comes from knowing that your absolute worst isn’t something that some people will stand. It may sound counterproductive, but if in your worst you can’t scare some people away, you are either the absolute worst or the absolute best. It’s nice to know which people will tolerate your crazy, even if you are not sure why.
Having people that tolerate your misplaced storytelling is a gift. Having a happy ending is a gift. Having a story is a gift, even if it’s over. Being alive is precious. Every story matters. There is no happy ending without having a story. If all stories ended happily, there would be no story to tell. And if there were no stories, then there would be no reason to live, because there would be no one to listen or to tell. We each have a story. They aren’t often written; they’re spoken, shared, tweeted, texted, and screamed. They are backwards, forwards, circular, sloppy, and generally a hot mess depending on when they are told. They don’t stop because you are a parent, a child, an adolescent, teen, or survivor. They just are. And although I may suck at telling stories as of today, stories are for telling. I promise that if you don’t assume my story has already ended happily, I won’t assume that you have no story because you don’t share it. But please, let me keep my story. I promise, I will share.