The decisions we make today will define the stories that get told about us… we are all writing a story with our lives. ~ Josh Becker
Near our home in Lance aux Epines, Grenada, when I was growing up, two old women lived together in a small house. We really never knew them. In fact, we couldn't get to know them because every time we got close to their home, they would come out and threaten us—“Get away from here or we’ll call the police!” We didn't even have malicious intentions…well, not in the beginning anyway. They continued to over-react and threaten us for seemingly no reasons at all. So, we began to push back. And, then Halloween came around. Of course, we had to trick-or-treat at every house around us, so not even the old ladies would be spared. They were given the wonderful opportunity of gifting us with candies…but, again, “Get out of here!” So, we rained down rocks on their roof…and in Grenada at that time, roofs were all corrugated tin…and the sound of raining stones was quite deafening for them, I’m sure. They called the police…but, really—it took them an hour to arrive, and we were long gone.
The point of the brief vignette is this—the story we have about the old ladies is a story of rejection, rudeness, and retribution. How different might that story have been if the old ladies had taken time to tell one of us about a desire for quiet and solitude, if they had engaged us just briefly to tell us that they were in fact ‘old’ and just wanted to be left alone? Their decisions and actions indeed determined their story. (Oh, I cannot in any way justify the silly, childish response on our part, so I won’t even try! Now, that foolishness is part of my story….)
Dr. Sarah Wingard was a person to be feared above all others in our college English department. Yet, she was perhaps the least imposing person physically. Where her slight 5’ frame and arthritis twisted hands might have revealed weakness, an amazingly intimidating persona with a withering look made her seem larger than life. She was not an amazing lecturer, per se…but somehow she captured our minds and carried us with her through centuries of literature, introducing us to hundreds of unforgettable characters. While the average person on our campus would know well the reputation of this lady, a few of us had and have a different take on Dr. Wingard. She was a person who cared about her students, but one wouldn't find that out until one needed care.
I had been wrestling with some depression, issues of personal identity, and some soggy winter weather—all three of which conspired to keep me snuzzled in my bed for a day or two…or three. Then, the knock came at the door late one morning. “Hey, Jon. Dr. Wingard wants you at her office today at 2pm.” That was all it took. She sent word to me to be at her office? Yikes! I knew I was in for now. I had skipped her class twice in a row. With fear and trepidation, and with a pocket full of well-crafted excuses and explanations, I went to her office door. I rapped softly and heard that voice, “Come in.” I went in. She sat. “Sit down, Jon.” So I sat. “What’s going on, Jon—you've missed two classes, and you’re going to get so far behind you won’t be able to catch up. You’re too smart and too good a student to let that happen. What’s going on?” All of my pretense fell away, my excuses went out the window…and I just told her about my depression and struggles. She gently reminded me of the poets we had studies, of their struggles…and pointed me back to the same literature we had studied in class. “There, in those words, you will find words that will lift you and carry you and inspire you.” And, she was right. To this day, the words of Wordsworth and Blake and Shelley DO move me and carry me. And, because of her compassion, to this day, I remember Dr. Wingard not only as a ‘formidable’ professor, but as a person who cared enough to call me out of my pit and point me towards the light….
So, our decisions and our actions do pen our stories. When we reach out to others, when we engage, when we act out of good intentions, we write stories that others will eagerly tell with joy. When we refuse to engage or when we engage negatively, we write stories that others will tell as well…stories of warning and how not to be. Therefore, I determine anew and afresh to act in ways that write a good story…on the outside chance that someday, somewhere, someone will tell others stories of Jon. May they be good stories….