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The Hero of the Story

May 27th, 2008

If you’ve made a comment in the last ten days please know that I have read and appreciated it, even if I haven’t responded. I’ve been away in Germany and leave tomorrow for a few days in Holland.

One of the great pleasures of travelling around giving talks and workshops lies in meeting people. Everyone is so unique it becomes a fascinating process just trying to come to know a person, even if one only meets briefly. A propos of this, here is a good quote, which points to the way in which we can approach the process of getting to know someone:

The moment we want to say who someone is, our very vocabulary leads us astray into saying what he is and we begin to describe a character or type with the result that his uniqueness escapes us. We can surmount this problem only with a story: who somebody is we can only know by knowing the story of which he himself is the hero.”
John Navone, Towards a Theology of Story, St Paul 1977

6 Responses to “The Hero of the Story”

  1. Philip,
    I love this quote. I have always felt to define we confine, most of the time. We all are heroes of our own story and we ‘write’ it every minute as our moment to moment choices dictate.
    When we meet someone, what a beautiful thought to think to ourselves about that person. ” you are the hero of your own story” and honour them in that. Thank you for the quote and insight. Alice

  2. People’s story’s so often stay hidden. These unspoken narratives contain so much; they are the poetry we have made from the substance of our lives; the places where we have found meaning and self-definition. It’s always an amazing moment when other’s share this because it reflects back so much about ourselves too. I am also touched at how much people endure; how they survive and thrive and of the depth of each person’s experience.

    Getting to know friends is often like a serialisation of the wider story of our lives: bit by bit we hand over another section; some sections stay hidden, shown only to those we love and trust deeply. But it’s not just the more enduring relationships that can touch us and encourage us to open – I think brief and unexpected encounters can also have quite an impact.

    When I lived in Portsmouth, I used to walk a path that ran along one side of the Harbour. It was one of the few places that had trees and greenery and was a little sanctuary for me, despite it overlooking the reclaimed land, on top of which the mortorway into the city had been built. One day I met an old man and his very round and waddly dog. I had been day-dreaming, gazing into the water. I became aware of this old man walking very determinedly towards me (later I wondered whether he had thought I was planning on throwing myself in!).

    He began to walk with me and talk to me about his theories on life. This very unassuming man in his seventies, who had lived all his life behind the very ordinary fascade of one of the thousands of terraced houses that covered the city, became extraordinary to me as he spoke. He told me that he had learned that all he saw around him was ‘of God’. He was a Methodist but his more unorthodox feelings had leaked out beyond the chapel walls and had found the Divine in his entire environment, ‘even in them cranes in the Dockyard’. He told me that whenever I felt down, I should come outside, that there would always be something wonderful to be discovered that would lift my spirits. He walked me home.

    I never saw him again, despite the fact we lived so close to one another and that I walked the path frequently. I went home from our brief contact feeling so lifted and happy. It was amazing that a complete stranger had shared something so intimate – something of his life and experience that meant a great deal to him – and in doing so, had made such an impact on another human being. I even wondered whether I had encountered an otherworldy being because it seemed so out of the ordinary! He really wasn’t interested in the small talk that shields people’s deeper thoughts and feelings – he wanted to talk about the stuff that mattered. Maybe for him age had helped to lessen the importance of the coventional rules of behaviour, those rules that often stop us from really talking to each other.

    We all have the capacity to touch each other’s lives. I regret that people so often ask ‘what do you do?’ as an opener to conversation. What we ‘do’ is so often an inadequate mark of who we are. I still follow that old man’s advice – a small part of his story has enriched my own. Perhaps we become heros in each other’s stories too.

  3. What a great quote! The magic of getting to know someone is in the glimmers of their story that you witness, feel or are lucky enough to be told – like in Maria’s comment about the old gentleman…

    We may only end up being the eqivilent of one word in another’s tale – but each word is precious – for without the words – there would be no story!

  4. Yikes! The whole blog thing is not something I do much. Unfortuately, I left a message in the wrong place (but seemed more appropriate to my question) but for the wrong writer. This is for Phillip Carr-Gomm. I couldn’t find a better place to insert this question, so here goes: I’d like to know if there is a site I can go to for the stories behind the minor arcana cards in the Druid Craft Tarot? Who are the characters and what scenes from their mythologies are being portrayed?

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