For some reason I find myself thinking about narratives. Perhaps it comes from world events, where narratives true and false try to define our outlooks and guide our responses. Perhaps it’s from the cancer world where narratives make everyone a superhero, even if that is quite contrary to the actual lived experience.
Sometimes narratives come from literature. From wizard heroes to daring adventurers, stories allow us to identity with a character and assume their best traits. One character that has influenced me is Alvin in Arthur C. Clarke’s The City and the Stars, published in 1956, before I was born. Talk about the power of narrative!
Alvin was an outsider who could not follow the narrative of Diaspar, a computer run city where life was perfect and no one lacked for anything. In this city where man-kind had supposedly retreated from the Invaders (it’s a sci-fi book), people were born out of the central computer, and at the end of their lives they would gather their best memories and return to the computer where they would be randomly recycled over the aeons. The randomness meant that the society was always comprised of a new mix of people. But they all shared the same societal narrative that made life in Diaspar safe and comfortable and utterly unchanging.
Alvin was a “unique”. Unlike his peers, he had never existed before, so he did not share the societal constraints that trapped his friends in the collective narrative that anything outside the city walls was to be feared. Alvin was guided by his curiosity and he would change the status quo of Diaspar in a way that could not be undone.
The City and The Stars is a story of adventure; it’s a story of being true to yourself. It’s about the wonders of not fitting in and the amazing places it can take you.
The narrative of Alvin’s travels has stuck with me for decades. I have always tended to see the world differently, often through a lens of optimism, creativity and possibility. I strongly identify with Alvin’s rejecting the narrative du jour.
I identify with Alvin’s not fitting in. I identify with Alvin’s bravery to live according to his innermost self, even when it isolated him from the so called norm. Alvin redefined humanity’s evolution (it’s really a great book-you have to read it) and changed the course of history.
Now I may not change the course of history, but I can follow my own path. At my age, people want to settle down and live out their lives. Some do some wonderful volunteer work. Others travel with friends and visit with their grandchildren. I envy them their certainty, their sense of place in the world, but my life has never been about certainty. By choice and by chance, I’ve been confronted with massive uncertainty, ranging from health to sports to finances.
But I have a certainty that I am doing what I am meant to be doing. I am sharing stories, stories of hope and inspiration. Stories about navigating life’s impossible difficulties. I have always had a personal mantra:
“Always have a good tale to tell.”
And I guess that’s exactly what I’m doing.
What’s your narrative? Who are some of your favorite personas, in literature and in life? How have they influenced you?