As I neared graduation from high school in recent months (an event I will not stop celebrating for at least several months to come), my Humanities class finished the year by reading Dandelion Wine by Ray Bradbury. I’ve never had an English class or teacher I wasn’t inspired by in some way, and while I can’t say the same for any math classes, this Humanities course was a highlight of senior year. This book in particular was a perfect choice to end on. Although Douglas, a central character in the book, is a few years younger, his coming-of-age story struck a chord with me as he strove to document his new experiences, realizing “I’m alive!” I guess something about the throes of puberty makes us want to write things down.
If you look at life as an unfolding story (and excuse the use of a cliché metaphor), would yours make the New York Times best-seller list? Would the film adaptation be action-packed or romantic? Would people be invested in the plot? Would they write fan-fiction about it? Examining my own, I can think of story-worthy events. My trip to Northern Ireland last year, for example: I saw a lot and learned a lot, earned some character development, and got a glimpse at a greater ongoing plot than I was previously aware of. If I use Douglas’s system of documentation for life experiences, this might fall under Discoveries and Revelations. Graduation might fit in Rites and Ceremonies. My first time cracking my head open years ago could become both: Discoveries and Revelations of the proper amount of caution to be applied while perched atop a wall, and Rites and Ceremonies for the first time getting stitches!
While these might make for good stories, or at least humorous anecdotes, what about the events in between these highlights? I fear that too much of my story could be summed up in a paragraph or two, or be sped through in a montage scene. I might confuse drama with excitement and become a poorly-written YA novel, and no one needs another one of those. So, what makes a story worth telling?
In the blog of someone older and wiser, this would be the part where the author gives some sage advice, critiques the younglings’ ways of living, and wraps it all up with a succinct summary quote. Unfortunately, this is the blog of a youngling, yet to be a legal adult, and I’m legitimately asking. I still have three weeks until I’m legally allowed to use a trash compactor at work, so I’m not exactly qualified to think I know what makes life worth documenting. Is it our relationships with others? Self-confidence? Personal fitness? Trash-compacting? Maybe the key to making our lives extraordinary is to “Carpe diem – seize the day,” as another inspiring, if fictional, English teacher John Keating puts it. The pastor’s kid instinctual reaction in me is that God is the answer, which seems accurate, but vague.
That greater ongoing story I first became aware of in Northern Ireland started a long time ago, and thankfully someone documented it pretty well. It’s made up of all our individual stories woven together. There’s a lot of variety in our stories, just as there are different genres in books or movies, but the greater plot unites them all and gives them value. That may be the only story truly worth telling.