Listen to this story
I’m not a saint, and you weren’t the devil. And maybe I’m not the hero, and you’re not the villain. But this is my story, and I get to tell it.
My friends and I don’t really do small talk. My ex used to complain about how “weird” my conversations were with friends. What he had really observed is that we don’t do chit chat. We’re not gossiping about people we know or discussing the latest in hair or fashion. We dive right into the depths of each other’s souls. We talk about the things that move us and make us laugh and hurt us so deeply there are almost no words for it. We don’t bother with the surface. We go deep, and we’re the touchstone for each other. We call each other out on bullshit, but with great love. And we tell our stories, even if we’ve all heard the stories before. We share because we need to, and our friends listen because they need us to, and we do the same for them.
So when I say I was having a discussion with a friend, I mean that we had both pulled back bandages on some pretty deep wounds. I was pacing my house, like I do, with the phone to my ear. (Sometimes that’s the best I can do with friends so far away.) And I lamented that it hurts that the people in my past can commit total character assassination, and there’s nothing I can do about it. Someone I love will tell the story about how I’m this awful person, and I have no power to dispute the story from my role as the villain of it. To him, I am that person, and no amount of coming to my own defense will ever convince him that I’m not. In some stories, I am the villain.
That doesn’t make me the villain though.
Just like I realize that I may only be the hero in my own stories. Maybe the villains I’ve cast aren’t the villains outside of their interactions with me. Maybe they’re heroes, too- deeply flawed, struggling, but heroes all the same. But it doesn’t matter. Not really. We all get to author our own stories. We get to choose how we present the characters that come into (and out of) our lives. We get the final say in the role that they play.
We also get to choose the role we play. We write that part, too. Do we cast ourselves as the hero of our stories, beating all odds and overcoming all challenges? Or do we make ourselves the victim, never responsible for the things that happen to us and never able to get beyond the hard knocks of life? Or worse, do we make ourselves the fool, never learning from our experiences, constantly made to repeat them?
Other people will choose how to tell the story of us, where our lives intersected with their own. We have little influence over that, other than how we treat people and if we make amends when we’re in the wrong. But we do control our own story. We get to write the way we live our lives, by our choices. We get to write our own love stories, based on what we put up with. We get to decide how we’ll approach each and every thing that happens to us in this life, and no one else gets to decide who we are to ourselves in our own damn story.
No, I’m sure as hell not a saint. I use too much bad language, and I have zero interest in celibacy. Sainthood is not for me. And I’m under no illusion that I’m perfect. I make mistakes. But I’m nobody’s victim. In someone’s story out there, I am surely the villain. Maybe in someone else’s story, I still look like a saint. But in my own?
In the story I get to write, I’m the hero. Not because everything goes my way, but because no matter what happens, I keep fighting and trying and never giving up. Sure, it hurts that someone might see me in a less-than-flattering light.
But it would be far worse if that someone was me.