What’s The Story You Are Living?

Last Saturday I was having a bad day. My head was spinning with the messiness of my house, the too-many tasks of building readership for my blog and my novel Revelle, and how controlling Thor was acting towards me.  I felt discouraged and overwhelmed, to where I had no idea of what I should do with my afternoon.  If our lives are our stories, I was at that point living a muddled, pointless story.

So I sat down to pray in the Sacred Corner of my bedroom. I quieted my chattering mind and listened for a wiser voice than my own. And I actually heard a clear answer on what I should do with my confusing Saturday.

I should follow through on my long-delayed intention of hosting a neighborhood meeting on earthquake preparedness. Right away my body relaxed some, as in my shoulders dropping back down from my ears. The back-story here is that I grew up in the earthquake country of Southern California, have lived through some temblors, and am keenly aware that Oregon, where I live,  is overdue for a major earthquake. All those things are also true for my neighbor Karen. We both want to be prepared, and we know that in any disaster, earthquake or otherwise, neighbors are the primary source of help. Professional medics and rescuers will be too swamped.

So, that Saturday evening I had Karen over to chat. We decided we’d hold a neighborhood meeting at Thor’s and my house the afternoon of Saturday, June 29. We’d make flyers and invite everyone, set out snacks and drinks and nametags, present some information and maybe a good video Karen might find, since she’s a librarian. I felt good. I was living a good story again.

The challenge in our lives may be our struggle to get an education, or a job we find meaningful, or any job at all. Or our challenge may be how to get along with our spouse , or how to get our own business off the ground. All of us struggle with mastering our fears, even when we don’t admit it’s a fear that’s making us snappish with our kids, or keeping us awake at night, or making our shoulders go up towards our ears.

Back to my current story. It took an unexpected twist, as any story that’s true to life will do. The neighborhood email list that I’m on started buzzing with reports of bad activity in the area: a theft here, a scare there, a man brazenly walking through someone’s closed gate right into their backyard. People wanted to meet and talk about crime prevention. It was clear that Karen’s and my passion for earthquake preparedness would get no traction at this point. The neighborhood’s conflict was that it was experiencing crime.  My neighborhood’s current story is one of protecting itself, but from crime, not an earthquake.

Sigh. I don’t walk around worrying about someone breaking into my house or stealing my bike from my front porch, even though I’ve had both those things happen in the past. Stuff being stolen is irritating but survivable. In contrast, lots of people don’t survive major earthquakes.  Or, they survive but get maimed. I walk around worrying about the Cascadia earthquake that is overdue to happen. Do we and our neighbors know how to access the 40 or so gallons of waters in each of our water heaters? Do we all know some basic first aid with which to resond to each others’ inevitable injuries? I walk around worrying about climate change (global warming), which is much less concrete and in our faces than theft or even earthquakes, but will end up killing a lot more people in the world. Neighborhood crime feels like small potatoes to me compared to my huge-potato worries.

But. On the other hand. I learned earlier this year that resiliency is resiliency, whether we’re dealing with earthquakes, climate change, or neighborhood crime. Building our relationships with the people right around us makes us safer, no matter what challenge we might face. Relationships are what glue us together, whether we’re talking about safety, or talking about happiness.

What did Karen and I decide to do? We decided to embrace the new story. Our flyer is announcing a Sociable Neighborhood Watch Meeting, same date and time as in our original story, same scenario of nametags, snacks and drinks. Mike, who handles the neighborhood email list, has lined up Katherine Anderson, the crime prevention coordinator for Southeast Portland, to be our speaker. People are planning to come.

To be honest, this is probably a better story than the one I first had in mind, because it’s a shared story. Later this year Karen and I can hold a meeting on earthquake preparedness. In the meantime, we’ll have built closer relationships with our neighbors, and built our shared resiliency skills.

I’m finishing this post at Rain Or Shine Coffee, Thor sitting peacefully next to me. I notice that when I’m living a good story, he doesn’t try to control me as much, or if he does, it tends to slide off of me like water when I’m living a good story. When I slip out of living a good story, I react poorly to him. Our house, when we bicycle back to it in a few minutes, is still messy, but I won’t react to that either. Living my good story is that powerful.

Over to you: what’s the current challenge in your life? What story are you living in response to it?

P.S. Confession: I didn’t make up this idea of needing to live a good story. I got it from an inspiring book I just read by Donald Miller, another Portlander.

10 Comments
  • Mick Wiley
    June 9, 2013

    Al,
    Your post has quite a meaningful message.. When I had a recent painful left arm problem, iwas down and definitely less patient and more irritable.
    Less mobility meant I had to teach differently,
    Couldn”t walk or hike as much, & jogging wasn’t possible. When pain slowly subsided 7 weeks later, my quality of life was up and it was easier to live a good story.

    more reactionary with people. When the arm problem subsided.,My stress was down and it was easier to live a good story.

    • Alison
      June 10, 2013

      Mick, I’ve been thinking about your good comment. And here is what I think:
      we generally grow and learn the most from the hardest stories, the ones we wouldn’t have voluntarily chosen.
      I know that your painfully injured arm opened you to receiving help from others in a way you never had before.
      That makes it an excellent story. I don’t think it’s a big deal that a person can’t be as nice as usual when they’re in pain.
      Nobody can. I think you lived the story of the injured arm very well. And, I’m glad you’re no longer in pain.
      – Just my two cents.

  • Chris Anderson
    June 10, 2013

    Well, there’s no rule that says you can’t bring up earthquake preparedness at your neighborhood gathering, in spite of the fact that the prime topic has now changed to concerns about crime… I bet if you do, you’ll find some like minds who’d work with you on a “quaker meeting” in the future!

    • Alison
      June 10, 2013

      Haha Chris. Good play on “earthquake”. It happens that I was actually a practicing Quaker in my college years. And I’m still close friends with my ministers from then — Linda was the one who gently confronted me, suggesting that I develop gratitude for my aging process, which I posted about in late May.

      At any rate, welcome to Diamond-Cut Life. Hope you’ll be joining more discussions in future.

  • Dana Whitson
    June 10, 2013

    …and just the “getting together” w/ the neighbors…getting yourselves more familiar w/ each other is the key regardless of the meetings’ topics. With the busy lives people are living, being “neighborly” has taken a hit. Get togethers for the sake of get togethers are a great idea. I applaud your efforts!

    • Alison
      June 10, 2013

      Thanks, Dana. You’re right that the point is getting together, for any reason, never mind the exact things we talk about. When I was younger, I would have been slower to get that. I would have been on fire with a specific agenda, would have had more need to be right. Getting older seems to bring more understanding of what’s really important.

      You can see I’m practicing gratitude for aging ;)

  • Ami
    June 16, 2013

    Thanks, in a personal way, for this personally well-timed post. I needed to hear exactly this today, and it came through you. So glad to be a reader of this great writing!

    • Alison
      June 16, 2013

      Good to hear this, Ami. You’ve become an important part of my diamond-cut community.

  • Liam See
    June 17, 2013

    Thanks for posting this. My own Dad was physically present, but emotionally absent. I, therefore, sought out other father figures in my life. These included a pastor or two.

    • Alison
      June 17, 2013

      Liam, good point that it’s not as simple as just “having a father”. Interesting that a pastor or two were among the male mentors you sought out. Thanks for sharing this.

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