I’ve been working a bit on my family history.  By pouring through old census records and city directories you can learn quite a bit about your ancestors.  You can discover their parents names, their occupations, with a bit of research you can imagine them in a context, how did people dress then?  What were the rituals of their church?  What were the big events in their communities?  If you’re really lucky you will find an obituary that notes something about the person’s life.

Yet as much as you discover, there is always a big hole in the center.  There is something vital, something that gets to the heart of who a person is, that never makes it into a genealogical database.

Yesterday I came across an old letter written from my great-uncle to his sister, my grandmother.  As I read his memories of his father, I realized what is missing from the records.  Everything that the person did not do. Their unrealized potential.

When you think of history as a straight line there are only two ways to move, you can go forward (progress) or back (regress). Thus, if you are not always moving forward, you are falling behind. You must grow or perish.

This is a story that is told in one way or another all our lives. The book The Spirituality of Imperfection by Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham talks about the value of the Alcoholics Anonymous storytelling style, which they define as “what we used to be like, what happened, and where we are now.”

The metaphor is of a journey out of darkness into which, presumably, we will not return. This is the same type of story we hear on every biography program. Here was the star’s rise, then the star had problems, but now he has recovered and, presumably, will live happily ever after.

I wonder, though, how we might deal with our ups and downs if we saw them not on a straight line but as recurring motifs in a symphony? Would we define success differently? Would it be easier to cope with hardships if we saw them as part of a cycle, like rising and falling tides that as something that blew us off horribly off our course?

The stories we tell are important.

Literary Irony: Walden Pond Edition

Two paragraphs from one page on The Writings of Henry D. Thoreau:

From Walden:

I learned this, at least, by my experiment; that if one advances confidently in the direction of his dreams, and endeavors to live the life which he has imagined, he will meet with a success unexpected in common hours.

…Walden enjoyed only moderate success in Thoreau’s lifetime…

"You rarely have time for everything you want in life, so you need to make choices. And hopefully your choices can come from a deep sense of who you are."

— Fred Rogers (Mister Rogers), American children’s television host

"A calling blossoms when you see a need in the world that aligns with your passions, and you dive into addressing it head first. This can happen whether you’re an artist or a social worker, whether you’re young or old, and whether you believe in God or not."

— Chris Stedman, Huffington Post

"Life’s under no obligation to give us what we expect."

— Margaret Mitchell (Author of Gone with the Wind)

(Source: shelftalkersanon)

"The world puts a lot of pressure on you to achieve. God does not. In Him, you already have everything you need, and you didn’t earn any of it. You can stop campaigning, you’ve already been elected. The world can be a cold and competitive place, but make no mistake, God gives to us in love, not because of merit."

Unka Glen (unkaglen.tumblr.com)

"If you have accomplished all that you have planned for yourself, you have not planned enough."

— Edward Everett Hale (Unitarian, minister, author, historian)

(Source: uuquotes)

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; Forgive them anyway. If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway. If you are successful you will win some false friends and true enemies; Succeed anyway. If you are honest and frank,
people may cheat you; Be honest and frank anyway. What you spend yearsbuilding, someone could destroy overnight; Build anyway. If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous; Be happy anyway. The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow; Do good anyway. Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; Give the world the best you’ve got anyway You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; It was never between you and them anyway."

-Mother Theresa

(via thefreenomad)

(Source: sbinthecity, via thefreenomad)