“How will you tell our story when we are gone?” Things don’t always end how and when we want them to, and for the Bahamas Methodist interns, the decision has been that their injuries are serious enough to send them home for recuperation. Preparing for their departure; taking leave of new friends that have quickly become like family; some of them can’t help but wonder what version of the narrative future visitors and volunteers will hear. “Will we be described as naive? As victims of a freak accident? As heroic?” For better or for worse, many people on the island seem to be under the impression that they are neither naive nor heroic, but deceased after news spread that they were struck by a rogue wave while walking on the cliffs. Thanks be to God, that narrative is not true, but it is hard to leave not knowing how their story will be told.
Several years ago, when I started in pastoral ministry in North Carolina, a particularly wise Bahamian told me that I must make sure to always tell my story. He told me that my story was my truth, only I knew it and only I could tell it. But if I did not tell it, there would always be people willing to rush in and tell it for me whether it was the truth or not.
That reality is expressed in few places as surely as the church – we love to tell one another’s stories, often with as much enthusiasm and visceral delight as we find in telling the “old, old story, of Jesus and his love.” Stories about others, sometimes called rumors, are traded like rare and valuable baseball cards, that once obtained give a great sense of pride to the owner until they are traded up for something even more valuable.
This can produce anxiety… if you let it. Yet, for our departing interns, as for me, as for you, as for us all, the key is not what story will be told, the key is what story will be lived. Our own actions and our own words are the only thing any of us have authentic control over. That action, called self-control, is a virtue and a fruit of the spirit – while control of others and what they say and do is neither virtue nor fruit. A simple modifying noun makes all the difference. I’ve lived off the high of trading stories and trying to control the world around me enough to know that it is a high that is neither authentic, nor lasting, nor satisfying. It seems the more we try to control what is not ours to control, the less control we truly have; for in the act of control of others, we have lost control of self.
“All those things in life. All those things in life. When you’re dead and you’re gone to Jesus, all those things in life going to be gone.”
I’m shaken out of my reflections by the groans from the woman in the flowered straw hat on the clinic bench beside me. Waiting for the interns wounds to be rebandaged, I sit beside an elderly woman who is writhing in pain after falling and bruising her knee the night before.
“All those things in life. All those things in life. When you’re dead and you’re gone to Jesus, all those things in life…”
She’s right, you know. All those things in life that frustrate you, when you’re dead and gone to Jesus, that is all that they are going to be – all those things in life.
But as right as she is, all those things in life can feel awfully important while you are living through them – and as much as her mind denies it, her body well knows it as she arches her back and throws herself against my shoulder moaning, “All those things in life… All those things in life.”
Helpless to do anything to ease her anguish, all I can offer is my agreement. Yes, all those things in life… all those things in life… we must learn to live more gently through all these things in life.
As we left the clinic, we went back to the cliffs that they had been dragged down. (Don’t worry Abe, not close enough to get caught by another rogue wave, just close enough to observe from a distance). Jess, Alex & Alicia were able to see and remember and begin to understand what had happened to them. And because they were better able to understand their story, they will now be better able to tell it. So friends, go home and tell your story, but be patient with yourself. Some stories take time to tell. Some stories we must tell to ourselves before we can tell them to others. And remember, as long as your life is not over, neither is your story, and the end of the story is never final – it is always be rewritten every moment, every hour, every day.
As you return home, there are many things that you will have no more control over than that rogue wave that arched over you with its white fury. Continue to write your ever-evolving story as you look to yourself to see where you place your feet, for those feet are the only thing you have control over. And look to God, who is no more controllable than your rogue wave, but much more merciful and who always has your best interests in mind.
“All those things in life. All those things in life…” Let us learn to live more loving, through all these things in life.