As I sit, writing, at my desk on this November morning, the sky is just beginning to emerge in shades of pale gray, streaked with persimmon along the Eastern horizon.
The story the season tells is written in the clouds that hover high above the bay – reflected in swaths of pewter on a downy sea. It’s scribbled in the dark outlines of cedar trees etched against the sky. It sings and shouts among the bright stars of fallen leaves gleaming on frosty ground.
We don’t know how cold this winter will be. We tell ourselves stories based on our experiences of winters past.
The morning — more than twenty years ago! — I looked out my kitchen window to see my boys hurtle down the snowy slope of the hillside behind our house in their homemade toboggan, shrieking with excitement, their voices shattering the brittle winter air.
They’d built an obstacle course for themselves, out of snow. Mounds of snow formed mini-hillocks that sent their toboggan flying before it landed with a crash and a thud on the other side.
Theirs was an adventure story, epic in its tale of perils overcome, mountains conquered; the sudden thrill of veering off course, spinning off their sled, landing headfirst into the arms of a snow bank.
They learned, through their play, to shape their own obstacles, to sail over them undeterred by the prospect of falling, to fly and to trust their landing.
They’re young men now, married, with families of their own. I see, in the men they’ve become, the ways in which their stories have shaped them.
I see it in their irrepressibly playful, adventurous spirit; in their willingness to climb, to fall, to land on unmapped ground. Their deep knowing that they are loved, safe, creative and powerful.
We tell ourselves stories about the world around us, about our place in it. About who we are, how we live, what we can and cannot be. We tell stories about what we can create, enjoy, experience – and what our experiences mean, how we feel about them.
Those stories shape us. They shape the world around us as surely as if we were grabbing a handful of snow and shaping it into a mound, a hillock, a mountain.
Our stories thrill and delight us, or they scare us into submission, or they grow us into the radiant possibilities of our astonishing selves.
Our stories grow the world around us — an Emerald City or a slum; a world brimming with love and possibility for everyone, or a world in which the treasure is guarded by dragons slavering at the gates of moated castles behind whose walls the chosen few feast on bread stolen from the mouths of children, the elderly — those who are poor, those who are most deeply vulnerable.
The old stories are exhausted. The world they shaped is choking on toxic fumes of fear, emptiness, rage and shame.
As I write this, in a thousand cities around the globe, people are gathering. They’re gathering to sing new songs, to tell new stories. In London and Lima, Cape Town and Kuala Lumpur, New York and New South Wales, stories are rising. From paved roads and cobbled streets, from city squares and dirt maidans — from the heart of the Earth, new stories are being born.
The stories you tell are powerful. The story of your life, the story of your business, shapes the larger story of the world in which we — and our children, and our children’s children — will live.
Have you given away your power to shape your own story?
Take your stories back. Find the stories that belong to you. Sing them into being. Call them out loud, by their true names.
Your stories shape the world in which you live: Today. Tomorrow. Next week. Next year.