Guest post by Sofia Kohl Enggren.
In July 2019, my family flew to Pennsylvania to interview my aging Swedish grandfather about his life. There in his living room, we practiced the Swedish tradition of drinking Akvavit. He said, “For Swedes, you have to pour something into them to get something out of them.”
What we got out of him astounded us: stories we’d never heard; pain we’d never addressed; dance moves we’d never seen. In the process, he taught me how to trust in life’s timing, listen more deeply, and remember that endings always mark new beginnings.
LITA TID | Trust in the Timing
We all know that life is just as long as it is short. We are, usually, somewhere in between impatience and reluctance. We can wait too long to tell a story, we can tell a story too soon, or we can tell a story at the right time. It is good to hold the intention of being on time.
When the time comes for a story to be told, you will know. You will get a little urge in your belly that will seem like hunger, and the hunger will be named “the beginning.” The moment we respond to this impulse, the writing begins. From there, let it be like a baby that grows in the womb, developing little bits of itself at a time. You are its guardian. Try not to rush it, try not to resist it. Remember: the beginning comes at the beginning, the middle in the middle, and the end at the end. Let it be an exciting journey that surprises you at every turn.
I emphasize this because I am aware that we are an “answer-oriented culture”—we often want quick resolutions and certainty. Before we have an experience, we want to know how it will go, what it will bring, and how it will end. But a good story requires a different kind of attention. It asks for us to invest our trust in it. It requests that we focus on finding the right questions rather than on getting the right answers. Be patient. Be present. Be courageous.
BERÄTTELSEN VET BÄST, LYSSNA | Listen: The Story Tells Itself
Stories are not something we create through force, but rather, that create themselves with our allowance. To do this, it is imperative that we listen—and that we listen well. We should listen into the cracks; listen beyond the words.
Celeste Headlee, in her Ted Talk “Ten Ways to Have a Better Conversation,” brings up the observation that most of us don’t listen in order to listen—we listen in order to respond. Often, we already have an opinion that we want to prove, and we listen to gain evidence for our thesis. This is particularly true in our families, when we have lived and been affected by someone else’s story. It is tempting to think that just because a person’s actions affected us in a certain way, this means the person is a certain way.
But stop and think about this for a minute. How often have you, yourself, been misunderstood? Have you ever been so upset by being misunderstood that you stopped trying to clarify the truth, and let yourself go on and on being misunderstood? Have you ever behaved in a way that even you, yourself, didn’t understand or approve of? The truth is, very few people are actually evil; most are just misunderstood. We all experience the world differently, and we even experience the world differently, ourselves, depending on the time in our lives. We know significantly less about the truth than we like to pretend we do.
NÄR VI SLUTAR, BÖRJAR VI | Remember the Ending Is Always a Beginning
As I was writing this, I asked my father, aunt, and sister to give me a few keywords to sum up the experience they had with my grandfather in Pennsylvania. Their answers, in no particular order, were: “Love. Regret. Trauma. Healing. Nostalgia. Stories. Endings. Grey Gardens.”
For many families, there may be a long way to go in fully finding healing and reconnection. I am not suggesting the bypass of emotions like anger, grief, and regret. They are all part of it. But, please know, it is never too late for forgiveness, and certainly never too late for love.
My aunt added to her words: “All stories have an ending.” To this I would like to add a quote from one of my favorite book-adapted movies, Daniel Wallace’s Big Fish, directed by Tim Burton: “The ending is always a surprise.” Often, the biggest surprise is the new worldview that’s left in its wake. A story has the power to change everything—so please, tell yours.