Sunday, April 22, 2012

Your Life Is a Story

The sun sets over a farmhouse in Kentucky. Paint peeling, white gauzy curtains hanging in the frosty windows. A little boxer dog is yapping. It’s a Sunday night in November, just four days until Thanksgiving.

In this house live a man and his wife, both forty years old, and their two teenage sons. The wife—everybody calls her Chick—is eight months pregnant with one of life’s little surprises.

Chick doesn’t eat dinner that night because she isn’t feeling well. The man asks the boys to clean up.  As the hours pass, Chick feels worse and worse. Finally, her husband throws a coat around her shoulders and drives her to the hospital twenty miles away. They admit her right away. She has a bad case of toxemia and she is in labor.

This is an era of big cars and ladies wearing big hats to church, an era when nurses are all women in white dresses and fathers-to-be are shuffled off to the waiting room.

He waits. Someone hands him a cup of coffee. Then another. A big wall clock  marks the passing time while he counts the squares in the beige and brown linoleum. This is taking too long. Why don’t they tell him something? Finally a nurse comes out and taps him on the shoulder.

“I’m sorry,” she says. And the word seems to echo down the corridors. Sorry, sorry, sorry “I’m sorry, but the baby is dead, and we don’t expect your wife to make it through the night.”

The words hang in the air like thick black smoke, awful and unreal. His heart is in his throat. What will he tell his sons? How will he get through this?

“Can I see my wife?

"I'm sorry.” There’s that word again. “The doctor is with her.”

Sorry. He paces and prays, paces and prays. The baby is dead. He is no longer conscious of the floor tiles or the nurses whispering or the clock hands spinning or the people passing in the halls.  We don’t expect your wife to make it…

Sunlight comes through the windows. Outside, a half moon still lingers as commuters make their Monday morning trek back to work. But for this man, none of that matters. Somehow the night has passed, and the nurse comes out again. She looks tired. 

God, please. No more bad news. No more sorry.

The nurse brushes her damp hair from her face. “It’s a girl,” she says. “And she’s alive. Would you like to see your wife now?”

I know this story well, because the man told it to me many times. I am that baby girl, and my mother lived to watch me grow up.

Our lives are made up of little stories like this one—some touching, some funny, some seemingly insignificant. Together they form a mosaic that tells a bigger story, the story of our life as a whole. Put many lives together and they tell a greater story of a nation or an era. Put all the little stories together and they tell the story of mankind.  

When we think about “stories,” we think about the stories in books and legends and myths and movies. Or the stories our mother read to us when we were young. Or perhaps the stories of celebrities or historical figures or politicians.  It’s easy to forget about the story nearest to our hearts—the story of our own lives. So many of these precious stories are never told, never written down for our great great grandchildren to know about us and the life we lived. 

How sad to be just another name on a genealogical chart. 

      Born April 14, 1926. 
      Died January 6, 2007. 

I’d much rather leave a story or two to go with the name. That day in childhood when I mixed random household chemicals together and invented rubber. (My mom never knew.) My fifteenth birthday, when Kennedy was assassinated. The winter night of the big meteor shower when our family stayed outdoors all night, freezing our tail feathers off. And I still had to go to church the next morning and lead worship. 

These aren't great historical happenings. They are significant only to me, but they say a lot about who I am and what I treasure.

But how to begin?

Here's something you can do this week.

The Girl Who Lived
(Take that, Harry Potter!)
Make a table or spreadsheet with a column for each decade of your life. In each column list five memories associated with each decade. Just five. It's easy. One memory will trigger another. You don't have to "write them up." Just a simple list of memories and stories others have told you about yourself--like the story about my birth recounted above. And gather a few photos of yourself from different ages too. The photos may help you with your list.

That's all. Just a list and a few photos. And next week, we'll talk more about ways to move from the list to a story--the story of your life.

To read Part Two of this series, "Your Life Is a Treasure," click here.


  1. Patty, I positively loved this post. Always enjoy all of them I read, but this one is great. And I appreciate the reminder to keep writing stuff down for our families that follow. Great advice! Thanks.

  2. How have I known you for nearly 30 years and not known this story? And what a story it is! Love your idea of remembering 5 events from each decade of our lives. I look forward to the next installment!

  3. What a neat story to have about your birth! This is a great post and it's true that our lives are a story with many different chapters. I wonder how many stories I've never shared with people that they would love to know? Thanks for the reminder.

  4. What a great story, idea, and interesting way to bring out the writer in all of us!