Humans tell stories to make meaning of the random, serpentine twists of life. I always wanted my storyline to read “Naïve public school girl graduates from Ivy League School, joins business consulting firm, travels world, becomes famous exec and philanthropist (or maybe college professor). Instead, events swerved from business consultant to mom of three small children has complete autoimmune breakdown, writes her way back to sanity and health, self-publishes two books, builds strong family life with great kids but has no career to speak of.
That second set of plot points is harder to work into a coherent narrative. Until I could craft a positive, meaningful story out of those obstacles I felt lost. I recognize the same lost feeling in our poor, drifting country. What happened to the “greatest country on earth, the land of the free and home of the brave?” Does anyone think that storyline describes our descent into COVID madness, our White House hot-spot of infection or our snarling, divided populace? Lady Liberty’s light has gone out, and we have lost the plot.
Experts agree – there is no going back to “normal.” Until we construct a new narrative we’ll all feel a bit at sea. We don’t yet know the ending, of course; this year alone holds a pandemic, roiled campaigns and already-contested election. But perhaps we can envision the story we want to write. We need a timeout from headlines and deadlines to expand our imagination and write the resolution we want to read.
Mira Ptacin provided a great example of replotting her story in “I am Not a Housewife. I’m a Prepper,” her Op Ed in the New York Times (Ptacin). Ptacin describes giving up her career for the pandemic as – not returning to the 1950’s housewife era – but evolving into a 21st century goddess teaching her children how to grow a garden and raise chickens, buy generators and prepare for any possible calamity.
So if we’ve lost the familiar plot as individuals and/or as a nation. we are free to imagine a new storyline. As a nation we may require new heroes and supporting characters, new tools to triumph at the climax of the action (which I pray is coming soon). As individuals we are the heroes of our own stories, able to vanquish the villain or the inner demon and claim our reward in triumph. We can do the same collectively for our country, imagining a new and better future where the good guys win, at least until the sequel.