I have been thinking of a story my sister, Chris, reminded me of the last time we spoke. I had forgotten it completely but it seems not to the level of her remembering. Years ago we were having a conversation about the book Beach Music by Pat Conroy. A favorite read for both of us and a beautifully crafted book for a myriad of reasons. During that conversation Chris was trying to remember who played the main character in the movie based on the book. I said, “Nobody it was never a movie.” She was emphatic that not only was it a movie but we went and saw it together. She then pulled out her phone and went searching for the movie and the actor she was trying to remember. What she found was that it had indeed never been a movie so her memory of seeing it and seeing it with me was fiction. She had not only cast the movie in her head but produced, directed and released it. Then of course was the memory of us seeing it together and the details that went with that set of events. She was stunned, especially since all the memories were so rich in detail.
So what does this mean, besides Chris has a vivid imagination and rich inner life? It means we create stories about things we believe, events, people and well everything. We then hold them as fact, as lines in the sand, as ways to live, as whatever we need that story to be. I don’t see this as good or bad unless we don’t understand that it is our nature to do this. It is part of our nature to find meaning, or look for understanding in the chaos around us. So yes memories can be benign and fun like in Beach Music being a movie or they can hold us prisoner. How would that look? Maybe we remember a conversation with a parent where we were shamed, or being rejected by a lover, a teacher who told us we were stupid. Perhaps we got left out of parties, or passed over for a promotion we thought was ours. These things we can make up stories about, embellish, or misinterpret to fit a narrative in how we define ourselves. Then it becomes dangerous.
Voltaire said “Doubt is not a pleasant condition, but certainty is an absurd one.” Being certain our “stories or memories’” are wholly true, pure fact, might be a dicey bet, not unlike eating gas station hot dogs. I am not advising throwing out our stories or memories or carving them in stone. I just have been thinking about what stories I use to define myself and which ones no longer serve the life I live now and who I have become. What did I invent or massage over the years to fit my narratives of self? What ones have you invented? I think just noticing where our stories come up, what we use them for and what we are certain about could be interesting.
The times I am certain of something is when I have been the least open. This is true especially when it has been around painful memories, or stories. The times when I have not invited in the pink elephant of doubt to the table in the moment, and not after the moment in the retelling sets me up for a greater fiction. Knowing I was wholly in the right in a fight or even in a disagreement where I felt justified in my action is particularly dangerous ground. Hindsight usually shows me I was generally partly culpable or responsible for things going south and other times much more. So building my life on memories, stories of what may or may not have happened seems like a less stable foundation. Perhaps instead just considering them part of the fabric of my life not fact or fiction but stories that illustrate who I have been and what has mattered to me over time might be truer and more beneficial.
In adapting this approach I am not stuck in the realness, the point of order but rather in the spirit of the tale and what it gave me in its inception and life. That does not mean there is not truth in our stories, and there can be fact as well. Both exist in those stories but treating all of the memories as gospel is where we run into ego. So maybe we need to think more of our closely held beliefs about ourselves and others as mutable, flexible and try to be more open about inviting in doubt. Try to remember with the lenses of kindness, compassion and humor what is painful, playful and purposeful. The certainty we want may leave us too rigid for the long run and we might miss the best of our stories and others stories. By relinquishing certainty to invite in a little doubt, we garner the opportunity to see a movie that never existed but should have and we had a hell of a time seeing it.