Friday, May 15, 2009

What's your story?

You know what would make a good story? Something about a clown who make people happy, but inside he's real sad. Also, he has severe diarrhea. Jack Handy

When my daughters were younger we used to play a game as we drove along city streets. "See that man over by the bus stop? The one walking slowly with his shoulders hunched," I'd ask. "You've got sixty seconds to tell the story of what's happening in his life."

Quickly, one of them would 'write' the story of his life. "He just came from the doctor's office. He's worried because the doctor wants him to go for some tests and he's scared about what they'll find. Tests always scare him. Even as a kid, he hated tests. 'Someone's judging you no matter what you do,' his mother used to say. 'Tests just confirm other people's bad judgement of you,' she'd add before marking up his homework with her bright red pen. The doctor told him he doesn't think it's cancer. He wants the test to rule it out. But the man didn't hear the 'not cancer', all he hears is, 'I've gotta get a test for cancer'. And he's convinced he'll fail."

And we'd drive on with the story weaving itself until we spotted another person who inspired a different story.

Outside my office window the world unfolds every day. The man comes out of a white house across the street, walks to his red car, unlocks the driver's door, opens it and climbs in. His walk is purposeful. No time to check out the grass. To listen to the birds. He's got places to go. His wife exits the house, locks the front door, hurries towards the car. She takes tiny steps, balances her coat, two large tote bags, one red, one black, and a purse between her hands. She reaches out for the passenger handle behind the front seat and quickly throws her bags into the back seat. Slam! she shuts the door, opens the front passenger door, climbs in and they drive away.

Their yard is pristine. I often see them outside raking, cleaning up debris, tidying up flower beds in the hope of spring's bounty. When the snows were melting, they lifted off the piled snow and spread it across the lawn. Snow they'd piled up during winter's snowfall. At first I thought, "How fascinating. All that work of shovelling snow only to spread it out again." And then I realized, "How smart." They're spreading the moisture across their lawn in preparation of the grasses need in the spring. Using nature's bounty wisely.

A woman walks past my window every morning. She's on her way to work. Dress pants. Coiffed hair. She has a happy step. A lightness to her gait. She steps onto the heels of her feet, rolls forward and bounces up. Her arms swing. The hem of her 3/4 length dark blue coat with shiny brass buttons swings. The large bright blue bag she carries over one shoulder swings with her.

She walks away and the space in front of my window is filled with a woman walking her Cocker Spaniel on the other side of the street. She too is dressed for work from head to ankles. White running shoes encase her feet. She walks as quickly as her old shambling dog can shuffle. He always stops at the corner where the walk from the white house of the man and lady with the red car meets the sidewalk. He always sniffs. She always waits a moment then tugs gently on his leash to get him moving. He pulls back. She bends down to ruffle the fur behind one ear. He moves on. Her walk is slower. More confined. She keeps her head down, her eyes facing the sidewalk in front of her. The memory of winter's treachery still in her mind, she watches for patches of ice waiting to trip her up.

A man jogs by. Tall. Heavy built. I can see the shadow of his nighttime beard. His gait lumbers. He runs from his hips. Long stride. Feet planting heavily, heel to toe on the sidewalk, no bounce. Hips jerk side to side. His shoulders are tight. His arms swing from the post of his upper body like a washing machine rotating clothes. Two jerks to the left. Jerk. Jerk. Pause. Two jerks to the right. Jerk. Jerk. He keeps his eyes focused straight ahead.

An elderly lady walks by. Bright pink coat. Milk white hair spilling out from the edges of her cream coloured hat. It forms a halo around her face as she steps into the sun streaming towards her from the east. She walks quickly. A purposeful stride. Morning exercise to stem the flow of time eating at long lost youth, curbing ages erosion of her well-being. She's committed to good health. Good eating. Good living.

Outside my window, the world flows by. I can make up stories about how it's flowing, about the people in the flow of life and create wonder in my world about all the stories around me. Or I can sit and pretend the world is confined to my keyboard in front of me, the screen flickering in the early morning light.

I imagine the story in the white house across the street with the organized couple. Their tidy life unfolds with the precision of a Swiss watch. They are content. Satisfied with life. Their retirement planned. No surprises expected. But surprises happen anyway. They take them in their stride. Little need for discourse. It's just life.

Expect the unexpected and you won't be disappointed.

Expect the unexpected and greet it with surprise and you'll always be excited.

Yesterday, I expected to spend several hours of my day working on a report due for Tuesday. Yesterday, the unexpected kept popping into my office. An unscheduled meeting detailing some changes at the shelter where I work that, while anticipated, are unfolding in an unexpected way, sooner than expected. Some great opportunities for change. A phone call asking for help on a committee. Unexpected honour declined. A donor coming in to drop off a cheque, stopping in my office to offer her services to set up a literary program. A welcome intrusion. An unexpected gift that took an hour out of the expected unfolding of my day. A happy surprise.

That's life.

Can't make up for spent time. It's a non-renewable resource. It evaporates with every passing second. I count the minutes in my day. Add up the column of things accomplished. Subtract the total of items left undone.

The value isn't in the difference between accomplished and undone. The value of my day is the worth I brought to each moment. The joy I sprinkled on each encounter. The story I wrote as I passed through time's continuum, in stride with the world around me, taking detours. Passing road blocks. Leaping tall buildings. Falling into anticipation. Soaring into jubilation.

Watching the people pass by my window, I take pleasure in witnessing their stride through life, that brief moment of seeing them in my view and the moment of a story born, fading away as they pass by.

Life is in the journey. The journey is comprised of the stories we tell that fill up the time of our lives.

I can make up a story for anyone, but the real stories that make a difference in my life are the one's I tell myself that make a difference in how I pass the time of day.

The question is: What's your story?

No comments: