There’s no more need for the narrative…they say. They, being CNN Opinion writer Douglas Rushkoff. “It’s a quaint structure that went out with the industrial age and the moon shot. We live in a state of present shock.”
In the aftermath of breaking news every moment with the Boston tragedy, all of us hanging on every pixel of our computers, I am hard-pressed to disagree. That, even as I work on my narrative, a story with a problem to be resolved which changes the main character for the better.
Books are so old fashioned, Rushkoff contends. Beginning-middle-end is just not how we live. As he cleverly puts the battle against terrorism, “We can’t stick a flag in it and call it won.”
His message: Things are no longer conquests with clear endpoints; they’re more steady state concerns. Let’s be about the dealing with the now. In real time. Don’t bother yourself with history or strategy. Victory is just not an option. He concludes, “Life goes on.”
Does this bother anyone else but me? That life is just a skating rink where I go round and round, waiting till my balance fails me and I slip and fall? I think I am worth more than that to God. And to my family, friends and neighbors. I think I am part of a much larger narrative, so large in fact that from my tiny vantage point I can’t see the way forward. Perhaps I can just see the ice oval.
And there is no question, it’s slippery.
It’s that very characteristic of life, its danger and risk, that causes me to grapple with the narrative. What is the story that sheds light and meaning for me? What helps me keep my balance?
The question reminds me of an encounter a good friend Barbara told me about during her recent business excursion to Beijing. She befriended a young woman who knew Barbara to be a Christian and the woman asked her, “How do you know your faith is not a fairy tale?” Barbara was hard-pressed to answer that for a woman with no Bible and no experience with Christianity. The Biblical narrative is a story lived and recorded many centuries ago. The question was valid: How can we know it’s true? How can we count on the truth it offers?
Barbara told me she shared with this woman the assurance she now has looking back on her life and seeing all the ways God directed events to head her toward Him. I know this is true for Barbara, but I wonder how helpful the “looking back” testimony is to people of today. Who live in present shock. Their perspective is present tense. Literally. It probably rings just as hollow as telling the bombing victims “it will all be okay.” Their need is now.
That’s where I realize how much I count on the narrative. The knowing that the story has a beginning, middle and end. The beginning and the end have already been written. We’re living in the middle. But I don’t think we’re mired in the middle. Steady-state just has that feel to it. Cause and effect, cause and effect, everything a stimulus and a response to maintain the status quo. A maintenance of the civil and the responsible and the healthy. Guess that makes us all maintenance workers.
As a scientist I know this pattern as homeostasis. It’s the miraculous design of our bodies to live and breathe and grow and survive. It doesn’t always succeed. Unguided or random stimulus like cancer may spiral it into dishealth and illness. It is easy to see the impact. But let’s not miss the flip side. Guided, directed, proportional stimulus can send it exactly in the other direction. We call this growth.
Stimulus is a constant. But I find it miraculous that we were designed to withstand it, even to grow from it, almost as if our Designer knew what was coming. Having a healthy narrative that guides our response is a recipe for survival. Mr. Rushkoff, that is life. In the end I have the hope that I may look back and see it. From the middle I am now in, it looks and feels slippery and very much the oval. But when in a moment of balance and beautiful glide, however temporary, I allow myself to look back on the places I’ve been saved from myself, my confidence is renewed. There is assurance. My story has a purpose; my life is worth that much.
Call me old-fashioned. I’m choosing the narrative. Makes much better telling.