Personal Narratives

Our lives are made up of different stories bound together by various themes.

Unlike fictional short stories or novels, however, where the turn of events are sometimes predictable or when the characters and their actions lean towards the theme and the authors’ perspectives, real people’s stories are more complicated and more interesting. In fact, in many cases, there are perfect examples of the quote “Truth is stranger than fiction.”

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If you let your eyes make a quick look at shelves in bookstores of published biographies or autobiographies, you may notice that the people written about are usually the rich, famous, infamous, influential, powerful, game changer, and in a few instances, the maverick. This makes one think that if you do not belong to this category or if you have not done anything remarkable in your life, then your life is not interesting or not worth telling a story about.

Well, in a way, that makes sense because readers would not want to read the lines “I get up at 6AM, take a bath, have my breakfast, go to work, go home…and this is my life all weekdays” in an autobiography. There’s no thrill in it.

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That may be a simplistic example, but I think, we should disabuse ourselves of this notion that we need to do something revolutionary, life-changing, earth-shaking and have a string of accomplishments before we can consider our lives worthy, that we need to always live our lives with drive, passion and enthusiasm towards the pursuit of our dreams and goals. I feel that this is one of the reasons of many people’s unhappiness and existential crisis.

Your story matters. People’s life stories, even those of the ordinary people, matter. Stories intertwine people’s lives. When we realize this connection, we will feel more sympathy, empathy and compassion towards our fellow human beings. When we are aware of this, we will feel a sense of community.

I did not intend this piece to veer towards the philosophical although in the course of my writing, it went to that direction. I would prefer to share a few stories and observations about people’s narratives instead.

  • I had the opportunity to read some documents that my lawyer-friend prepared for court hearings, which she showed me for grammar check and proofreading. In a few cases, the violation of the other party was so glaring that I reacted. But then, she would say that it’s a matter of presenting the information–the narrative, and supporting it with “evidence” and suitable legal explanation. To simplify, even when guilt is obvious, a good lawyer can still present the narrative in such a way that the client can win a case.

  • In one of my solo flights some years back, a woman in her 50’s struck up a conversation with me. Over a snack of “goto” in one of the food stalls of a local airport, she told me that she’s working abroad as a domestic helper, that her husband and children are in the Philippines, and she has a lover in the country where she works to make her feel less lonely. That woman poured her heart out, while I listened attentively. She thanked me afterwards for lending an ear.

  • One of the best parts of visiting my hometown is seeing my former classmates in elementary and high school. Most of us were classmates since Grade 1 and even a few of us have known each other since we were in kindergarten (5 years old). We would usually stay at a selected classmate’s house for a night during certain occasions and in one of these occasions, my mom’s friend remarked “Aw, dae kamo naurubusan ki istorya? Dae pa kamo nagkaraon, Matanga na.” (Oh, you never run out of stories? You haven’t eaten yet; it’s already midnight.) Indeed, when she said that, most of the food prepared on the table were untouched.
These are the limoniums I bought eight (8) months ago!
  • In my walks here around Paris, I sometimes had the serendipitous chance to chat lightly with people in my basic French language skills — a charming shop owner who gave me a stem of purple flowers (for free) to go with a vase I bought, an Iranian florist who has been here in France for 30 years and who recommended limonium if I wanted flowers that would last for even a year (and I found out that he was telling the truth!), and an elegant lady who is living by herself and whose grown up children are living outside Paris.

  • Also in Paris, I also met a vivacious old lady who recommended a nice butter brand while we were both looking at the fridge in Franprix and who pointed to her apartment just across the street in case I wanted to visit, a man who asked for a coffee date while I was selecting summer hats in an open market (which I politely declined, haha!), and a young confident and smart girl named Emmanuelle who’s from New Jersey and was in Paris for a week-long vacation with her grandparents (she was fluent in English so that was really helpful for me).

  • When reading books about many countries’ histories, you see a pattern emerge. People start with being nomads and then they settle in places, discover agricultural methods, form communities, and form groupings. Some groups become more powerful than others, then these groups start to feel, believe and act superior, attributing their influence to varied factors such as nobility or divine gift. Then, some even more powerful countries discover new places, find out they’re rich in resources and they start to covet the place, impose their rules, and displace the indigenous people or the original inhabitants, or enslave them on their wn land, etc. The story goes on.

  • These and more.

The stories told were other people’s stories; but now, they’ve become part of my life’s narratives too.

I have observed though that not all people are willing to listen to other people’s stories. This is noticeable in comments such as “Well, each person has a cross to bear,” when someone has started telling a sad story. Or saying “That’s nothing new. That’s people’s usual reaction,” when sharing one’s sentiments. Or the “Why don’t you do/think like person X?” when comparing people’s viewpoints or decisions. Or “That’s past. You have to move on” when commenting on past issues or situations. These comments, and even more hateful versions, are seen everyday on the comments section of social media sites, making these as platforms for vitriol and vilification.

Then there are those people who twist the truth or lie to get what they wanted or invent fake stories. Or write a hate-filled comment to get attention or simply for the fun of making other people miserable. Or invalidate other people’s opinions and feelings, by deflecting the blame or feigning (or actually believing) to be innocent after being emotionally or verbally abusive.

I am certain, all of us, in one way or another, have a story to tell about these. But I would not delve into these situations.

But the worst type are those who twist stories to appear good or lie to achieve the result they wanted or gaslight others by using manipulation tactics to distort the truth or deflect the blame. When these situations happen, was the intention really bad? Or because people perceive situations differently? This is a serious question that cannot be simply answered by yes or no, and which I do not wish to elaborate right now. It’s tiring even to think about them.

I would like to end with this message:

Your story matters. People’s life stories, even those of the ordinary people, matter. Stories intertwine people’s lives. When we realize this connection, we will feel more sympathy, empathy and compassion towards our fellow human beings. When we are aware of this, we will feel a sense of community.

Take care. Thank you for reading this far. You may write your story in the comments part if you need to share or you need someone to listen. ❤

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