the story, and who owns it

One of the things Dad did by ending his own life was to give us, his children and foster children, control of the narrative.

Let me backtrack and explain that a bit.

Social units are very fluid today. Most people will have at least three social spheres in which they move--work, family, and friends. And in many cases these three spheres will involve totally different individuals, have different standards and accepted codes of conduct, and expect different things from their members. Each person will usually have each social sphere at a different trust level, of course. For example, a person might feel totally comfortable (at gold) in their circle of friends, but still be careful to remain polite distance (steel) or even refrain from any emotional connection (glass) at work.

Two things bind together any social sphere, and I will speak of the second at greater length. The first is the actions people carry out together, and second is the narrative which gives context to those actions. The narrative may find physical form in things like the family Christmas letter, videotapes of gatherings, or in the reports and task tracking that happens in the workplace. But all of these are merely representations of the narrative to which I refer. This narrative is the shared understanding between people of what it means that they are together. The story that forms inside a person's mind, to give shape and emotional weight to the fact that they and their friends, family or co-workers share space and time and tasks. Each person carries these "stories of us" inside their personality, whether such are outwardly expressed or not--how being a member of this group defines their identity, what pride they can take on or what shame they must bear which reflects their understanding of the group as a whole.

In my earlier post I took pains to point out that self comprises two things: the ability to relate and the power to choose. I believe, further, that the personality is constructed by the use of many overlapping narratives, in the same way that buildings are made of metal and stone and wood and plastic and plaster and fiberboard. There are the stories the child tells herself, of being a daughter and sister and BFF and secret princess, the stories the young man tells himself of being a son and student and hanging-out buddy and future secret agent/president/rockstar. Every person has at least as many narratives of self as they have social spheres--plus one, the internal narrative. Which cannot be shared, unless you believe in telepathy or communication through dreams. In which case it can still only be shared for very brief moments and is usually kinda disturbing, even to people who were expecting it. We are so used to loneliness that we are startled by our own spiritual nudity when even a friend stops by.

Whenever Dad was part of a group, he bent the story. As though his very presence was so heavy that your thoughts curved around and ran back to him, even when he wasn't physically there. Everybody perceived this about him. Dog only knows how he perceived the phenomenon. I suspect that was the form his magic took. He'd studied and practiced more magic than me for longer, and I think focused more on what I call the sorcery side (evoking story-changing experiences in and for people) than on the divination side (being able to recognize what it is that's actually happening while it's happening). Though when he put his mind to divining he was no slouch, either, he had to be reminded to use it--the "put your head down and plow through the obstacles!" attitude came much more easily to him.

But I digress. Everybody wants to bend the story. (Note to self: Yes. You, too, who want to be invisible, yours is the sneakiest ambition, because you want to change the way everybody thinks and feels about everything without anyone being able to point their finger and say, "you, it was you who did that.") Everybody wanted a piece of what Dad had, or wanted him to use it a little differently than he did.

And if he'd been incapacitated, there would have been many who would come to us and say, Well, this is what the story is really all about. This is what's happening to him and what's happening to you and what it means. This is what he meant by it. There would be many who would come to us and tug at the stories we have with Dad in them, tug and pull with the best intentions they owned, to make our stories fit their stories, to make our worlds and theirs a little more alike. And if such people believed they understood Dad better than we did, understood our relationship to him better than we did, they would want us to reconsider. To redefine, to shade our perspectives with a little bit of theirs, to see Dad and all his works a little more as they saw him.

Which is not a necessarily bad thing for people to do. Hell, we all have to bring our narratives and the personalities they build into some form of congruence if we're going to live together as allies, or even friennemies.

But many things change when a person is dead. When a big fish thrashes up out of our ocean into the dog-knows-what beyond, you cannot ride in his wake anymore. Even if someone would love to say to you, "Reconsider, shade your perspective with mine, see him as I want you to see him, and all the things he said, think of them as I think of them"--now they will hesitate. People will hesitate to imply about a dead man things they would imply quite glibly about a sick man. People will not pull and tug on your perspectives of a dead man the way they would your perspectives of a man they don't see or have seen and don't approve of. They would say to themselves, if they thought of such things consciously, "He is dead; he no longer weighs on the story. I do not need to compete with him for control of the narrative, for, dying, he reliquished it. And I have all the time in the world."

In our bereavement people are especially hesitant to interpret. Hard enough to face a death that surprises--there are platitudes for that. Oh, God willed it. Oh, what a terrible accident, gone before his time. Oh, I'm sure that's not how he would have wanted it. But for a death chosen, there are no soothing platitudes to say. There is no recourse to God or randomness or the unfairness of it all. There are only the horns of a dilemma: condemn the dead, or imply one's condemnation of the living by condoning the dead?

Oh, I'm angry with him. As I would have been for him doing any stupid reckless thing while living. But I forgive him for it, too. Because I know him and I know the astonishing levels of pain of all kinds he could withstand. And if he reached a point where it was enough, well. It was beyond a point I myself could have reached, little doubt of that. And if there'd been anything any of us could have done that would actually have helped, even that proud man was desperate enough to have asked. Dayenu, as another dead man I know would have said. It is enough, let it be enough.

Odd thing is, I couldn't even think of names to name if you asked me which people I'm referring to above. But one day soon, maybe you'll have a conversation and feel a tug on a story you treasure--and if you do, remember reading this. Remember, and laugh, and say to yourself, "The more fool they, for this story belongs to me."