Donald Miller's thoughts on story...
These are a couple excerpts from Donald Millers new book coming out in September. It's about our lives as stories and whether our stories are memorable or deplorable. So many of my hours are deplorable, absolutely deficient of meaning and worthy of being blotted out of all memory...this disturbs me deeply. Maybe it shouldn't, but I'm not mature enough yet to talk myself out of feeling horrible about my own life's fallow, callow, shallow plot. It bothers me. This little collection of writing speaks about these musings. Every paragraph comes from a different chapter in the book, so don't fuss about the fluidity of the content...it's my fault, not Donald's. Call it proof texting.
If you watched a movie about a guy who wanted a Volvo and worked for years to get it,
you probably wouldn’t cry at the end of the movie when he drove off the lot testing the
windshield wipers. You wouldn’t tell your friends you saw a beautiful movie or go home
and put a record on and sit in a chair to think about what you’d seen. The truth is you
wouldn’t even remember that movie a week later, except to feel robbed and want your
money back. Nobody cries at the end of a movie about a guy who got a Volvo.
But we spend years living those kinds of stories and expect life to feel meaningful.
Maybe that’s why we go to so many movies, because our real lives don’t feel meaningful
The saddest thing about life is you don’t remember half of it. You don’t even remember
half of half of it. Not even a tiny percentage, if you want to know the truth. I’ve got this
friend Bob who writes down everything he remembers. If he remembers dropping an ice
cream cone on his lap when he was seven, he’ll write it down. The last time I talked to
Bob, he had written more than five hundred pages of memories. He’s the only guy I know
who remembers his life. He said he captures memories because if he forgets them it’s as
though they didn’t happen, it’s as though he hadn’t lived the parts he doesn’t remember.
I thought about that when he said it and I tried to remember something and I
remembered getting a merit badge in Cub Scouts when I was seven, but that’s all I could
remember. I got it for helping a neighbor cut down a tree. I’ll tell that to God when He
asks what I did with my life. I’ll tell Him I cut down a tree and got a badge for it. He’ll
most likely want to see the merit badge, but I lost it years ago and so when I’m done with
my story God will probably sit there looking at me wondering what to talk about next.
God and Bob will probably talk for days.
You’d think God would just come out and tell us what to do in the Bible. But He
doesn’t. He mostly tells stories, and He rarely stops the story to say what the point is. He
just lets the characters and the conflict hang in the air like smoke.
It’s harder being a human than it is being a dog. When I’m at the dog park, I never
know what to say to the other dog owners. We’re all there so our dogs can exercise, but
the awkward conversation kills me. The other day I asked what kind of dog one of the
owners had and they said something, and then I asked the other and they said their dog
was a Lab like mine. I said Lucy looked like a seal when she’s wet and her ears are
pinned back, but nobody laughed. And I stood there feeling uncomfortable while our
dogs sniffed each other’s poop without the slightest hint of self-awareness.
And part of me feels like God is more pleased with the dogs’ interaction than He
is with ours, as though they are the ones having fun with the scenes He gave them, and
we are still trying to figure it out.
There you have it. As I read his brainstorming about the power of story, particularly the human story, I was laid bare once again with my own responsibility--that is my ability to respond to known realities--to tend to the plot of my story with delicate care and custom precision. So many of my days are "exploits in killing time". This is bothersome, really, really bothersome.
Even in obscurity, I want the passing of my life to be measured in meaningful frames, each frame giving meaning to the next, moving methodically and melodically like a river's current. I'm not looking for explosive adventure, I'm looking for a constancy of consciousness that finds itself swimming the marrow instead of wading in the shallow.
Here's the the storied life.