AS HEALTHY AS OUR STORIES
I believe we are as healthy as the stories that we tell
Those we tell to others and those we tell ourselves
Sensed we were something special from the moment that I knew
The stories that I tell myself are ones I tell to you
That’s the chorus of a song I’m working on called As Healthy as Our Stories. From time to time the focus of a Dear Partner Letter will be to talk about something I’ve learned in the 55 years since I first met Mike McCoy. This is one of those letters.
There’s a phrase that I became familiar with a few years ago that says: We are as sick as our secrets. As someone who grew up in a family with a significant secret, the idea certainly rings true to me. But then it also feels like a negative way of trying to become healthy. It reminds me of the time the doctor told you there was only a 10% chance the growth on your vocal cords was cancer. The problem was the only word we heard was “cancer.” While thankfully a few days later it was confirmed there was no cancer, there was a lot of fear walking to the car that day. The added implication in the phrase we are as sick as our secrets is that we’re all sick somehow.
Saying that I am more comfortable with the idea that we are as healthy as our stories. I also believe the more that the stories we tell ourselves are in line with the stories we tell others, the healthier we will all be. Add to that the understanding that leaving something unsaid does not necessarily mean it’s a secret. Then combine all of that with the idea that life is a love story. Which means in the end what I truly believe is that we are all as healthy as our love stories.
Here is one of mine: There was a young couple who fell in love on their first date. They got married. He was 24. She was 22. She was a nurse. He was finishing his medical training. A year after their wedding and a few days after their first son was born, they were separated by war. When they reunited something was terribly wrong. Eventually the man was hospitalized, first in the psychiatric ward of the hospital where he had been receiving advanced training, then in the psychiatric hospital run by the Veterans’ Administration and finally at the state mental institution. Nothing, including electroshock treatments, could free him from what was described at the time as catatonic schizophrenia. He finally did respond to a controversial insulin shock treatment and, the story goes, to his desire to see his second son who had been born on the first day of spring.
The man was able to come home a few months after the birth. The family reunited. Life and love returned. The terror of those times of separation became sealed in silence and a sense of shame. One of the woman’s lifelong goals became keeping her husband healthy, safe and alive. Five years after they were reunited, they moved across the country and began anew. I never found out whether the man ever knew his own father had similar struggles and that his oldest brother died in a mental institution when the man was a boy.
For me it is a beautiful and enduring love story in the shadow of a painful and shameful secret. And, yes, for many years the second son, that would be me, was, in many ways, as sick as that secret. Yet eventually with love and counseling and hard work a new story was written. A story where in the end I discover I can be loving, lovable, and loved. The shameful secret no longer needing to be shameful or a secret.
Proof for me that we can be as healthy as our stories.
Another love story I was able to play a small part in came 25 years ago when you saw and followed the light of love out of the darkness. The lasting story of that night is that on some deep level you understood that you were loved, and instead of running or pushing that love away you embraced it and were embraced by it. A love story that lives in you that you continue to live out every day. A love story that for the past 25 years the Monday after Thanksgiving we have taken a moment and remembered.
Proof to me that we can be as healthy as our stories.
Then there is a love story that grows out of that love story. When your daughter was about to marry, you built her and her future husband a dining room table. You and Connie drove to Colorado and delivered it. Then sitting around that table, because you did not want any of the past veiled in secrecy, you shined light of story into some shameful secrets. What came with those revelations was the affirmation that with love and truth there can be healing and reconciliation. You learned again the cleansing power of tears and the healing power of forgiveness. After those days of truth and tears, gratitude and grace, your daughter gave you perhaps the finest gift a parent can receive when she embraced you and told you, Dad, I always knew that I was loved.
Proof to me that we can be as healthy as our stories. That story and this letter ends a few months later surrounded by those who love you watching you and your daughter laughing and dancing on her wedding day.
Cause my daughter’s getting married thought it’s time for her to hear
From me some things I’d been and done back in her childhood years
Those drinking days and cheating ways I’m hoping she can trust
It was never about her that she was always loved
When I started talking to her felt the tears begin to flow
As I shared things she might have sensed but now she knows she knows
While I was not the best of men when she was growing up
It was never about her and she was always loved
When silence can be broken there can be time for repair
When light shines in the darkness we may see what’s truly there
We’re as healthy as our stories shared now if the truth be told
Knowing we are loved enough may be enough to know
When I finished she said thanks, Dad, some more tears and then a smile
She said can’t wait to laugh with you as you walk me down the aisle
The more we know the more we know she said I know this much
It never was about me and I was always loved
Whatever happens from this time and place it is enough
To know it will be about her and she is always loved
Love Gives More Music