You are not for everyone.

A friend posted this on Facebook recently:

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There are a lot of little pearls of wisdom tucked into these two paragraphs. Each sentence packs a punch that might hit you differently depending on where you are in life.

The line that got me was: “Sharing your path with someone is a sacred gift.”  In launching the turning point stories project, one of the things that most worried me was the depths to which I’d be asking people to go.  Turning point stories don’t tend toward the trivial. Instead,  they often center around the most mysterious and intense human experiences: death, birth, divorce,  marriage,  the loss of a job, a home, a cherished ideal, or even one’s innocence.  Asking someone to tell this kind of story is no small matter.

Do I have that right? I wondered. Who am I to ask a friend or a stranger to tell me a story about something that  changed their lives forever?  Can I really ask people to go there, to recount their most intimate moments, their fears, their missteps,  their regrets?

To recollect such searing memories will no doubt stir up long-dormant emotions. Some stories are buried deep for good reason,  to protect us from being wounded again by reliving the trauma.

Our brains often cannot distinguish memories from the actual experiences they represent.  When we “relive” an event through memory, the brain processes the information as if the event were happening in real time, and the body responds accordingly. A man describing a house fire that happened forty years ago might find in the retelling of the story that his palms are sweaty, his heart beats faster, panic rises in his chest, and waves of fear overtake him.

Present reactions to past events can be more powerful than we expect.  What if people aren’t prepared for that? What if I’m not prepared for it? My own turning point experiences are chock full of scary, serious stuff that sends shivers down my spine every damn time I think about it.*

So who am I, to be asking such questions?

Answer: I am a fellow traveler on this journey.  I wouldn’t ask anyone to plumb those kind of depths if I had not already been to those dark places myself.  I consider myself fortunate to have returned to tell the tale. Not everyone is so lucky. I could not, in good conscience, ask others to share their struggles, their tender moments and hard lessons, if I was not willing to share my own.

To be entrusted with these stories is a great honor, and a tremendous responsibility. If sharing your path with someone is a sacred gift, then this project is a journey we’ll take together as fellow travelers.  If you’re willing to go there, so am I.

*Helpful hint: if you’re wondering whether a particular story represents a turning point or not, here is a good test. Hold the story in your mind for a few minutes. Recall as many details as you can. Then observe what’s going on in your body.  If you shudder, or feel a lump of emotion in your throat that wasn’t there a minute ago, or suddenly realize that you can’t imagine telling this story without vomiting,  crying, blushing, or some combination of the three, chances are you’re onto something.

 

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