I have returned from two weeks’ vacation. 14 days of beaches, sun, serviced food preparation, new experiences and reconnection with the family. All gluttonous in its condensed consumption, but a remarkable treat none-the-less. Perhaps one of the great private pleasures of this type of treat is the opportunity to gorge myself on reading.
I have devoured three tremendous novels in the last couple of weeks and their beauty and the genius of the writers invigorate me. Perhaps by accident, each of the books I read has, indirectly and directly a theme of stories and story telling running through them.
One of the reasons I love books and stories is that there is always the possibility that the stories you encounter will help you understand your life or the world around you in some new way. The very beauty of life is its mystery and yet this eternal questing that shrouds existence can be exhausting. There are days when answers certainly would be appreciated and times when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune could do with being buffeted away with a shield of knowledge and experience that doesn’t have to be gained through hard labour.
Stories give me a short cut to new knowledge and vicarious life experience. Perhaps it’s the wisdom of a character’s dialogue, a clever way of seeing a situation or the casual clarity with which a relationship is navigated. Something happens within me and illumination occurs – it’s a frisson of transformation. Some of these moments have stayed with me forever – transmuting my sense of self and my worldview. Other times they pass away as richer knowledge and awareness takes over.
All of my recent literary consumptions gave me something to contemplate and somehow they are amalgamating into a new idea.
In many ways I think we can live our lives consumed by an awareness of what’s missing. How we are lacking, how life has fallen short of what we expected from it. That we, and life were somehow meant to be something other than what reality appears to have served to us. I am often aware of how people respond to life with what it hasn’t brought to them – a ledger of credits and debits that runs red.
The ‘if only I had …’ prayer and the the ‘yes, but …’ retort diminishes our stories into ones of graceless accident. We become victims of misfortune and the cruel vagaries of fate. And yet the opposite must be true. Our lives might well be generous productions of abundance. The trials and losses of our lives may be gifts. The lack of height, beauty, intelligence, athleticism – whatever dreamed up physical lacking we imagine could be reversed with a focus on what we do have instead of what’s missing. There is treasure in what we have gained through the not having of something.
It might be that the very thing missing from our lives is the appreciation of the magnificent mystery of life. Perhaps we have not yet encountered the right story that will reveal why the plot of our lives has twisted in a particular trajectory. If we saw our lives as a literary canon of tales, it might be that our lives are like some sort of masterful works of imagination still in production.
Our lives aren’t missing something; we just haven’t finished compiling our collection of stories. Ultimately each of us is the authority determining which works of fiction make up our canon. In so doing shouldn’t we be sourcing the very best stories for our collection. I think that might be what each of us is seeking – a clear and meaningful way of curating our collection of life stories in a canon of such poignant beauty that we can look through it at the end of our days and say, “What a remarkable achievement!”