October 9, 2011
Each of us has a story.
My great grandfather was an illegal immigrant. That was part of his story.
His name was August Smolich and he grew up in the former Yugoslavia. He was from a big family. During the war, food was scarce and since August was the largest boy in his family … he was cast out. At the age of 14, he was told to join the army … that there simply wasn’t enough food in order for his parents to care for him.
So August left that small Croatian village in Yugoslavia, never to return … He left, and made his way to America … to California … as a castaway on a ship.
I was not told this story until I was in high school. It was then that my grandmother Anne, August’s daughter, became quite ill.
It was then that she began to record the story of her life, as she spoke to a tape recorder. She gave each of her five surviving children, and her five granddaughters a cassette tape; an accounting of her life … and the history that started long before she was a twinkle in her father’s eye. I remember being surprised that she could fit all of this on one tape … as you might imagine … my grandmother talked A LOT. You will come to understand as we get to know each other, this runs in my family.
There was something about my grandmother’s life and experience that she refused to let die with her. Many of the stories on the tape were ones that she had told before … but many others she had not yet told. Some stories sounded familiar, but other details were added. They were stories I had heard about her, from the perspective of my grandfather or mother. But this time, they were from her perspective.
Something about the stories that my grandmother told over years, and oceans, and many a dinner table while she was alive … something about those stories needed to be told. As I listened to that tape, I realized that her story is my story as well.
I realized that her story, is part of mine.
What is it about our stories that guide our being? What is it about our stories that show the world who we have been, who we are, and who we hope to become? Perhaps it is these stories that form our being.
Each of us has a story.
Each of us has a story we share with others.
There are lots of things that we are quick to tell others about ourselves: the good grade we got on a math test, the promotion we got at work, and the wonderful accomplishments of our children. Some of the stories we tell include the circumstances surrounding our birth, or adoption into a family. Our story may include our talents, and weaknesses, and the hopes for our future that we share with the people we love, and with the world. These joys and experiences and milestones all contribute to the writing of our story … to what our lives have been.
There is also a portion of our story that is written long before we are born. This is the story of our life that is created in the dreams and hopes of our parents and family. Perhaps it is a dream of being a star athlete, a professor, or the first in the family to pursue a college degree. Sometimes these dreams, these stories, come to fruition … and sometimes they do not. It seems that part of our life story may be written even before we are born. It lives in the hopes and dreams that lie in our very existence.
There is an Icelandic proverb that says, “a story is only half-told if only one side has been presented.”
So what is the other side of our stories?
Well … many of us have our UN-told stories.
Maya Angelou wrote, “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” She was speaking of the agony she experienced in her childhood, experiencing and surviving awful abuse.
That was her story.
Our untold stories include the parts of our lives we do not readily share with others, if at all. The ones that impact us just as much, and often more, than the stories we do tell. But these stories we keep to ourselves. Perhaps these stories can also form our being.
These are our UN-told selves, our UN-told stories.
The stories of experiences we have had … and wish we could forget. The opportunities we have missed. Those secret longings we hold in the deepest caverns of our souls and hearts. The truth about who we are, or who we love … and the accompanying fear we feel about telling that story.
The untold story is often where the greatest amount of sorrow lives. It can be where our fear … sleeps.
But … the untold story can also be where our hope is found. It can be the part of our lives that feeds our soul and gives meaning to our time on this earth.
I’m reminded of the people we know in our personal lives and in this community who share themselves with others, and do not speak publicly about it. I think of those in our community who remain silent each Sunday as candles of joy and sorrow and concern are lit. Those who hold their joys or sorrows … unspoken … in their hearts.
I’m reminded of a man named Dave. He gives to so many different causes: to raise money for breast cancer awareness, AIDS research, and to agencies that grant the wishes of ill children. He volunteers for hours on end to make the world and his community a better place. And he does so without ever using his real name. He does so anonymously. This giving is part of his UN-told story.
Sometimes our untold stories bring us great joy, and we don’t share that joy with others.
I have a friend who refuses to tell any person who asks … the story of her engagement. She holds this moment in her heart as a sacred place where only she and her fiancé have been.
That place is part of her untold story.
I think of the countless soldiers serving prior to and under “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” who are in healthy, loving, committed relationships. Their stories are finally granted the chance to be heard. What an amazing, and likely terrifying, opportunity to share the untold part of a person’s story!
Each of us has a story.
I’m also reminded of a young woman I know who found herself pregnant and unable to care for the child herself. For nine months she carried the child within her body and decided to put the infant up for adoption.
Two people in her life know that pregnancy ever happened. The father of the baby, and her best friend.
The mother keeps in touch with the adoptive parents and has watched her biological daughter grow into a bubbly, beautiful three-year-old. But, for the most part, she has kept that child part of her untold story.
These stories of untold experience and joy and giving are more examples of the stories that can shape our lives. They help to make us whole. They remain in the quiet places of these people’s hearts, and they mostly remain untold.
I think of the young war veteran I worked with at the VA hospital. He was 21 years old and had spent 3 years as a machine gunner in the Marine Corps. After his third deployment, he was medically discharged after developing Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.
It wasn’t until I had worked with this young man for six months that he told me a tiny bit about what he had experienced. The terror and the fear in his voice spoke to me as I tried to imagine what he had been through … as I tried to imagine his story.
He explained that his trauma had been so great that the exact details were a mystery … even to him. Although he had experienced the trauma, it was as if his brain was keeping the truth of it from him in order to protect him.
Each of us has a story.
But why do we keep these untold stories from others? Is it based in fear, anxiety, or the possibility of judgment? Perhaps we are scared that if we are completely and wholly ourselves, we become vulnerable to criticism. Or perhaps, it is our mind’s way of protecting us from connecting with others and fully opening up to our best potential. Maybe its because we’ve kept a story silent for so long, that we struggle to incorporate it into our reality … we’ve blocked it out.
Sometimes, we think we know our stories. We may even assume that we know the history of our family, or at least as much as anyone else knows. Oftentimes, we do…
But every now and then, light is shed on a part of a story that we’ve never heard. And sometimes that light can be quite significant.
You’ll remember the tape my grandmother made. I told of listening to her stories. Well, as the tape was coming to the end, she told another story that I had never heard.
She and my grandfather were traveling and decided to go back to the village in Yugoslavia … the village her father left so many years ago.
They went to the town hall, where the records were kept … and asked if there were any members of the Smolich clan still alive and living in the village. The man responded that there was one member of the family still alive. He gave them the address and directions to find the house.
My grandmother arrived at this small house and upon knocking on the door, felt as though she had entered a dream-like state.
You see, the man who opened the door was her father. But this was impossible! He had died years before, and had never returned to that village.
The man was NOT her father … but his identical twin!
She never knew her father was a twin!
It was a part of his story he left out! In his telling of leaving the village and coming to America, of meeting her mother and starting his life over … he never spoke of his past. This was his untold story.
Each of us has a story.
What is your story?
What is your UN-told story?
Where does your fear sleep?
Wherever your fear sleeps and wherever your untold stories live, you are welcome and invited to share them here.
Ours is a community that is rich with story … and rich with connection to one another.
As each of us comes into this place, we bring our stories … both told and untold. May we share those stories … may we share our whole selves.
My friends, in our time with one another, may we create a beloved community and shed light on the dark caverns where our untold stories reside … where our fear sleeps.
Let us offer the chance to hear a story that has never been told … let us hear that story with open hearts and open souls.
May it be so. Amen.