Over the past decade I was supposed to be setting up a new life – landing an academic job after finishing a Ph.D., moving to a new apartment or condo, enlarging my network of friends, and trying new endeavors – all encouraged by my greatest supporters, my parents. I could step out knowing they would always be there to keep pushing me or to hold me when needed. I could picture – and almost touch and taste this life.
However, instead of striking out into new lands, over the past seven years I have been sitting in hospital waiting rooms four times waiting to hear the outcomes of major surgeries, hearing the diagnosis of cancer for both parents, and watching my father die. I would be no where else but with my mom and dad through their unexpected health struggles. However, this is not the story I had imagined.
Listening to friends and students, I know I am not alone in feeling that something majorly wrong happened to my story. Whether our plans are to get a specific job, marry that one person, or move to a dreamed of location – these certainties often disappear and we’re left with questions. What do we do now? How do we change our narrative – especially when our identity has been so caught up in our prior plans?
Holding onto these imagined stories, no matter how good, often inhibits the possibility of fully living into the story before us. As with most people, the stories I’ve created about my future have been exciting and good. They have led me to where I am now, even if the final images don’t match. But they have also encouraged me to ignore or just try to get through the scenes that I don’t like. If I can just get through this next surgery then my mom will be healthy and we can get on with life. If I can just stand and smile for thirty minutes at a social event, I’ll be able to leave and get to the activity I really want to do. Any possibility of interacting with people during these other times is ignored so that I can keep on track with the narrative I’m writing.
Looking back at these missed opportunities, I’m beginning to more fully accept that I should look at my story as more than a narrow path along a plot line. It takes place in the interaction of the characters in their surroundings. It’s a movement, not a well wrought narrative with a tidy ending. What if the story ahead doesn’t have the trappings of that happy ending, but a relationship with the one who is good – God – and with other people along the life journey? What if I live into the story before me instead of constantly rewriting a safe one? Now that would be a story to sign up for.