In Donald Miller’s “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” the author tells the story of a man named Jason whose 13-year-old daughter was hiding weed in her closet, dating a jerk and making decisions that were concerning to both her parents. In listening to his friend’s woes, Donald commented that it sounded like Jason’s daughter was living a terrible story, to which Jason asked for a further explanation. Donald explained to Jason that “the elements of a story involve a character who wants something and overcomes a conflict to get it.” He said, “She’s just not living a very good story. She’s caught up in a bad one.”
To many, the story of 2020 has been nothing but a bad one. If we’re all the 13-year-old girl, coronavirus is the weed in the closet, the presidential race is the jerk boyfriend, and tragedies surrounding racial injustice, child trafficking and natural disasters are just some of the bad decisions we’re facing.
What has been written into our now exhausted story of 2020 is fear, uncertainty, isolation, pain, hurt, anger, divisiveness, betrayal, disappointment, distress and tragedy. We have watched as individuals make devastating decisions, communities suffer unimaginable tragedies and leaders grapple for any inspiration and guidance on how to lead. We have criticized, complained and protested that these individuals (on both sides of the aisle, in every capitol and every community) don’t know what they’re doing and aren’t fit to lead.
The story we sometimes allow ourselves to settle into is often riddled with disappointed glares at the leader who should be infallible, the family member who should have been there or the mentor who should have built us up but ultimately let us down.
And maybe we’re right.
Maybe no human should be required to take on the pressure of solving the puzzle of a global pandemic. Maybe no one human or 50 humans or 5,000 humans should be asked to rectify the wrongdoings on an individual or of a generation. Maybe the writing of the story that is 2020 has been placed in the hands of too few people who are out of touch with human hearts and out of touch with the divine guidance — whatever that may look like — needed to write a story that withstands the tests of time.
The story that is currently being written of 2020 cannot be the story that we end with. We are caught in the middle of a bad story with a jerk boyfriend and a faltering hero that is our society. Our distrust, disdain and disappointment has taken over the plot — and with a sure to be divisive and contentious election cycle upon us — we cannot afford to stay in our bad story one more minute, but must decide as individuals, to begin to write a better one. One in which 2021 and 2022 and every year after that will continue on the legacy and story filled with everyday heroines and heroes.
As Americans rise to the call to write a better story, they may think that they have no right to be called a hero in their story — their job isn’t important enough, their effort too weak, their light too dim. And how can good possibly be done when there is so much working against us?
As we look to the foundation of the United States, with its inconsistencies and imperfect leaders whose stalwart souls found the courage to write a story that is the very foundation of our rights, liberties and happiness. These women and men chose to create a story that would open the doors of opportunity to all who chose to set foot on its soil, a story in which generations could stand on their unsure but willing shoulders.
We do not have to fear that these men made mistakes, that the rights of others were at this time still terribly restricted — namely those who were their slaves, their wives or their neighbors. The important thing is that they chose to start to write a better story.
And it is now our shoulders, though weary they may be, that must steady themselves for our neighbors, friends, children and loved ones to rise to tell a new story. We must give each other the space to decide to live a better story.
It is time to write a better story. It is time to look in our homes and in our hearts and decide that we are ready for a better story. That we are ready to turn away from the headlines of fear, the flashing lights of mistrust and the intimidation of the unknown and be part of a story that opens hearts and minds to craft a better story for 2020.
Returning to the story of Jason and his daughter as shared by Donald Miller: Jason eventually decided that he needed to create a better story to be a part of for himself and his family, if his daughter was going to live a better story. As things changed in their home, his daughter came alive, dumped the jerk and their lives improved significantly. As Donald asked what changed, Jason said, “No girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”
May we not forget to be the hero, to leave behind people, platforms and platitudes that leave us uninspired, and unable to write the story we need to tell. The story of 2020 does not have to end a tragedy, for we as individuals can choose to live a better story that no leader, disease, jerk boyfriend or uncertainty can destroy.
Sarah Matheson is a communications strategist and leadership expert.