A few years ago my slightly younger (50 year old) cousin invited me to go with her on a Segway tour of a famous cemetery in Richmond, Virginia where she lives. There were glorious views across the river and poignant stories about the people buried there, some of them Civil War soldiers killed in nearby battles. Most of all, there were hills. Lots of them. They got steeper. Eventually, I lost control of the Segway and fell off, and turned out I broke three ribs. I got up and finished the tour, insisting I was fine, wondering if died from the unspeakable pain I could be buried there in that wonderful cemetery.
Right away I had to tell the story of what happened, and the one event became multiple versions depending on whom I was telling. I described what happened to the urgent care doctor with as few words as possible. I told my neighbor, who had more time to listen and was trying to be sympathetic, the emotions: feeling like an idiot for losing control of the (admittedly unfamiliar) machine, being proud that I got back on and finished the tour without complaining. Still another story to my best friend and to my spouse, when I connected thes broken bones to others I had in my early 50’s that ended with me asking, not them but the air around them: “What do you think the universe is trying to tell me?”
Well, the universe changed its answer every time, in response to changes in the stories I told. Some of those responses lent themselves to seeing humor in the situation; others, not so much. About 48 hours after it happened, when the pain was at its most unbearable and I was desperate to find something else to think about, I collected several colored pens and a big blank sheet of paper and wrote in the middle: What is the universe trying to tell me? Various answers came along and I wrote them down in little cloud bubbles around the page: Be grateful for the cousin who took me on the adventure of a Segway tour with full confidence I could manage it, and sympathized when it went awry. Be grateful for the husband who got up several times a night to bring me fresh ice packs and help me re-position, to search for a way to lie on a body part that wasn’t hurting. Be grateful for health insurance so I didn't worry about going to an urgent care clinic for x-rays and pain meds. Enjoy having a new story to tell, now and forevermore. Note that my get-tough-or-die mother would be proud that I got up off the ground and finished the tour. Note that sitting still can feel really good, and have many advantages: time that I never seem to get enough of, for knitting, reading, watching movies, and writing.
But there were other messages: Be more careful. When you feel afraid (as I did, from the moment I got on the Segway), stop and listen to that, and consider admitting that you may not be able to do this. The worst: You should have known better than to get on a Segway.
Fortunately, the three most important people rejected the last one. My BFF said the universe doesn’t give negative messages like that. My spouse pointed out I did love the ride through the cemetery with the beautiful views and the poignant stories, both before and after the time I spent on the ground. My doctor at home said she was proud I was still “willing to fall off a few skateboards” this late into middle age, and did not seem to think it was silly to take the chance and clumsy to fall.
All of these responses, from important people, created the stories that made the Segway tour a good idea instead of a bad one. The more I concentrated on those, the less my body hurt. I need good stories that justify the choices I’ve made and reinforce the idea that on the whole, I'm a reasonably sensible person who makes reasonably sensible decisions.
Don’t we all need those kinds of stories? Aren't we lucky when we have people that will help to make them, and pull those out of the crowd of competing stories to sit right up front and beam while we go on in our imperfect but gloriously adventurous lives?Commenting is not available in this channel entry.