Your Life is a Story


At the beginning of David Joannes' first book, The Space Between Memories, he opens with this perfect line - "Life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards." It is as painful as it is true.

I'm embarrassed to say that since I grew up during the 90s, I still catch myself viewing my life as a sitcom: 25-minute chunks for entertainment, complete with a funny or interesting conflict, and wrapped up with a nice conclusion before the credits roll. The only reason I, and possibly others, do this is because life doesn't make sense if you try to project out any further. I can't predict what will happen tomorrow or even this evening. I can plan what I would like to do tomorrow, but as every great sitcom has leveraged, life throws you curve balls. You don't always get what you were expecting.

But a funny thing happens when you look backward. Stuff- moments, events, mistakes, successes- all start to seem connected. It all makes a little bit more sense in the rear-view mirror. Now I'm not one to dwell on the past, but I do believe in understanding the past. I don't think it's healthy to dwell on people who have hurt you, but acknowledging it is far better than ignoring it. I don't think it's healthy to idolize past successes, but reflecting on them is more inspiring than forgetting them.

One of our most frustrating traits as humans is self-awareness. Especially when we're self-aware enough to know that we're in the middle of a great story but that there's nothing we can do to know how it turns out. We just have to slowly live it in real time. If you're not happy with where it's going, it's still possible to change the trajectory.

But we're not fully in control of our stories. When I was in 4th grade the school I went to did spine health checks in 5th grade. That's not important, except that I moved after 4th grade and went to a new school my 5th-grade year. In my new school, they did spine checks in 4th grade. All nonsense to a kid, so what's the big deal? Well, the big deal is no one ever looked at my spine. When I was graduating high school I was trying to decide between joining the Marine Core or going to college. I decided to join the Marine Core. Only, I didn't get past the physical. I found out right away that I had scoliosis, I never knew I had scoliosis because it was something that would have been caught at a spine check-in elementary school. I was disappointed but also relieved that the decision had been made for me. So reluctantly I went to college. My second week at college I met my wife. Later, I became a Christian, we got married, and in September of 2016, we had our first child. A lot happens in the middle of all that, but I suppose I'm pretty thankful I wasn't fully in control of my story after all. And even though most of those events felt random in the moment, looking back they seem more purposeful.

So I guess we need to know that our lives are grand stories and also that we're not fully in control of them. My friend Doug likes to say, "life is 90% what happens to you and 10% how you handle the 90% you can't control." He's basically saying your story comes down to how you handle most of what you can't control. Because life can only be understood backwards, but it must be lived forwards.