“We were all trapped in stories, she said, . . . each of us the prisoner of our own solipsistic narrative, each family the captive of the family story, each community locked within its own tale of itself, each people the victims of their own versions of history.”
– Salman Rushdie, Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights –
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Buster Keaton’s classic The General played at the Egyptian Theater in Hollywood last weekend. A friend and mentor invited me to join him for the viewing. An everyman, Buster Keaton’s character, Johnnie Gray, seems to be stumbling through life. He’s a loner, not having many relationships, and probably never really had a lot of guidance, men in his life to mentor him.
He’s especially awkward in his relationship toward the girl of his dreams.
But Johnnie Gray is a good man. I love the character and can really identify with him.
Now, my friend Steve’s chief purpose in going was much more than seeing a Silent Movie Classic in a theater. Prior to the Buster Keaton film, there was a 15 minute short called In the Border States, directed by D.W. Griffith in 1910.
Steve’s big interest is that the ‘senario’ for the short film (often silent movies didn’t have scripts) was written by his grandfather, Stanner E. V. Taylor. Steve knows very little about his grandfather as his grandparents split up when Steve’s dad was only five years old. Steve’s dad never saw his father again.
Then there is Steve’s son Scott, an aspiring scriptwriter, who’s also trying to find out more about his Great-grandfather. So Steve and his son have this wonderful connection between them as they search for this backstory to their lives.
This outing with Steve got me thinking. Next week my daughter Stephanie and her husband Daniel want to sit down and do a video interview with me and her husband’s father. There really hasn’t been much discussion as to what format it will take. She hasn’t told me what questions they’ll ask. My understanding is, Steph wants to make a video document of who we are, these two men, who helped to shape her and Daniel.
I’ve come to realize how much I’m a product of my family, what an immense influence my childhood has had on my life. Not only immediate family but extended family members are very much a part of the fabric of who I am.
My parents divorced when I was six years old. This picture was taken at my dads house – my dad, my three brothers and my sister. That’s me at the far right.
It follows then, that my daughter, and any children they may have will be impacted, influenced, and in many ways fashioned by who I am and what formed me into the man I’ve become.
What will the video, the stories I share, possibly say to future generations in my family? So often in my life I’ve felt like Keaton’s character, Johnnie Gray, stumbling through life, not really sure what I’m doing. There have been many challenges in my life and I’ve navigated some better than others.
I’m still thinking about what I hope gets communicated in the video. Maybe a big part is that I’ve persevered. God willing I still have a while to achieve more, to continue making choices, till in the end I can say I ‘finished well.’
So I guess I have this opportunity to give a gift to my daughter. Let her understand who I am. Help her to know me so in some ways she might better know herself.
I want to make it clear that in my life there’s still a progression, and it won’t end till my time on this earth ends. And I don’t really believe that even then it stops. There’s an eternity to grow and become who God always knew I would be.
I have a week to think, pray and reflect on how this gift to my daughter will take shape. Whatever it is, I hope she likes it.
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“It is not until much later, as the skin sags and the heart weakens, that children understand; their stories, and all their accomplishments, sit atop the stories of their mothers and fathers, stones upon stones, beneath the waters of their lives.”
– Mitch Albom