What’s Possible in Giving up Old Stories?

leadership developmentDavid Whyte asks the beautiful question, “what if that story I have been telling myself is not true anymore?”Complementary to that question, I often reflect on what’s available in my life as a result of having given up old stories, most of which had me as a victim at the center at the time I told the story the first time. My wife Suzanne and I recently had the extraordinary opportunity to experience a marvelous “payoff”from having given up our various stories about the people we were previously married to, the events around the end of those marriages, and the other people who were involved in various ways at the time.

Suzanne and I had a major two week speaking project in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and two hours before leaving for our flight over, Suzanne fell and broke her ankle and we found ourselves together in the ER at a local hospital. We had major decisions to make and no time to think about it. She was in major pain and we didn’t know what was going to be involved. On the other side we had big promises at stake on a project we had been planning with the folks in Malaysia for the last year.

The people who rushed to the hospital and came to the rescue were Suzanne’s previous husband and his current wife. He agreed to help me get Suzanne’s car home and she stepped in to stay with Suzanne through what became a long afternoon and night of pain and surgery.  This support allowed me to leave without knowing what was going to evolve for Suzanne’s repair. In addition, it allowed the two of us to keep our promise and deliver most of the work in Kuala Lumpur over the next two weeks. Their commitment contributed hugely to our wellbeing but also to delivering value to nearly 250 business leaders in Malaysia. In addition, they brought meals to Suzanne at home as she convalesced over the next week until other family members could step in.

What strikes me most is the gap between these extraordinary acts of service by two people who are totally family in our lives and the way many no longer married people tell their stories – “you know, that witch, that…(fill in your choice of derogatory terms we have all heard).” At best, people refer to “my ex”as opposed to the mother or father of our children. The loss of possibility leaves all involved deeply short-changed.

I once, while I was still grieving, heard it said “if you don’t love them now, you never did.”On closer examination I find that to be at or near the center of unwillingness to give up that old story. If I admit to myself that I love them, how do I explain what happened to us, the pain we and others close to us experienced at the time, and why we are not together. Well, what if you give that up and work on letting go of your old stories in favor of love, life, and possibility?

photo credit: Marcus Hansson via photopin cc