Who Tells Your Story?

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Recently I watched a documentary about the late writer and director Nora Ephron called Everything is Copy, . Ephron is the genius behind the movies Sleepless in Seattle, Julia and Julia and a host of other essays and books. A good chunk of Everything is Copy explores the career Ephron made from taking material in her own life and making it fodder for her writing.

There is a line of dialogue in the movie I can’t quite shake it. Ephron refers back to her childhood and a phrase her mother would often invoke:

“You’d come home with something you thought was the tragedy of your life – someone wouldn’t ask you to dance, the hem fell out of your skirt – and she would say, ‘Everything is copy,’ What I now have come to believe my mother meant is this: If you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you. But when you tell someone you slipped on a banana peel, it’s your laugh.”

We are, as a whole these days, an oversharing, tad bit indulgent society. Should we chose to, we have ample outlets to speak whatever we wish – good, bad and ugly. Social media is the exact essence of “everything is copy.” We experience it and we share it. We flip the story and make it ours. Immediately.

The truth is I’ve tiptoed through life being terrified of slipping on a banana peel or admitting that I’ve done my fair share of falling. Often the most regrettable moments of my life have not been the terrible mistakes I’ve made, but rather the unwillingness to be honest with the folks around me. The facade, the mask, the game compounds the regret all the more. I often don’t feel bad for slipping, falling, failing. I simply regret not speaking up about it.

But why? Why in the world would we want to lay our stories bare? There are a million good reasons, too many to list here. But my favorite lately is this:

Like the rest of the world, I am currently obsessed with the musical Hamilton. My giant prayer these days? Impossible to-get-tickets to see the current cast on broadway. It’s a bit embarrassing how often I pray over these tickets, but in an essay on honesty this feels like an appropriate confession.

I can’t get enough of the backstory. Lin-Manuel Miranda, author and star of the musical, breezed through an airport bookstore looking for something to read on a flight. He found the 800 plus page, at times salacious, biography Alexander Hamilton. In addition to being the face on the $10 bill and the first Treasury Secretary, Hamilton was an island immigrant living in New York City. This part of Hamilton’s story proved to be a mirror. This immigrant sliver made Hamilton unexpectedly connected with so many others in our country with a similar sliver including Miranda, a Puerto Rican growing up in New York City.

In one honest story telling, another saw enough of themselves to get to work.

This can be true of us too. Maybe in opening up our lives, someone can take a slice, see themselves, and feel less alone or afraid. Maybe this sets off a deeper faith, a newfound courage, a squirreled away talent, a piece of art, whatever. Long creaky life wheels are set in motion. The next domino will fall and we will all keep moving.

In Everything Is Copy, Ephron goes on to say that telling her own story moved her from being a victim to be a hero. I’ve never wanted to be the story hero. This is not about glory or fame. I hope we are not honest about our lives so that we can flip the script and come out on top. It is about taking our lives and making sure what happens to us, because of us, in spite of us is not in vain. This is stewardship. Much like we manage our time and money, this is stewarding our resource of experience. It is saying, “This is me. I’m not perfect. Life has been good and life has been bad. Maybe you can identify too?” We simply cannot know what little parts of our life will compel, open up, inspire or break someone else. I am not the hero of my story, but I am also not the victim either. I am a narrator, letting all parts be told through me.

There are many experiences that need to shelved for a later, matured, distanced, telling. But in the right time and place, let’s open up our mouths or type with our fingers. Let’s be honest with a friend or even a stranger. Let’s be brave and open.

Hamilton ends with a song entitled Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story? It is a haunting piece that flies a bit in the face of how a lot of musical theater ends with big, bombastic numbers. But the question is great: who will tell your story? Maybe a kid, grandkid, biographer or stranger. There is a simpler answer, really.

If you are willing, you will.

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