Familiar Strangers

I am not ashamed to admit I used CliffsNotes from time to time during my high school career. Well, maybe I’m a little ashamed. Back in the day when our research tool of choice was the card catalogue, not Google and Bing, it was easy to go to the 800 section of library and find those yellow and black skinny paper booklets. Most classics on the high school reading lists were found there. Inside was a wealth of information – chapter summaries and analysis, major themes and symbols, and a character list with descriptions.

Because we are all trying to live our story, it might be a little premature to write the CliffsNotes version of our life, at least I hope it is. But if each of us could start one, where would we begin? Perhaps with character summaries? Don’t each of us have or have had some incredible characters in our stories. They’ve shaped us, loved us, encouraged us, and at times rub us the wrong way, but they all contribute to our life and to each of us as the protagonist of our story. They are the best and sometimes the worse part of it.

One morning while pondering the idea, I came across this:

Friendships and relationships suffer immense numbing through the mechanism of familiarization. We reduce the wildness and mystery of person…Familiarity enables us to tame, control, and ultimately forget the mystery.

John O’Donohue, Anam Cara

Yikes. Maybe the exercise of writing a summary can’t be done. Maybe what I think I know about the people in my story is viewed through the lens of  familiarity. What if people can’t be summarized, can’t be wholly known? What if all the characters are full of mystery and thinking I know them is just a way to tame and control what cannot be fully understood? When I think I know someone, I may be unconsciously eliminating their wildness, their mystery. Maybe I should live more in wonder and be open to the surprise of who they are.

And then I read on.

…consider yourself for a little while as a stranger to your own deepest depths. To decide to view yourself as a complete stranger, someone who has just stepped ashore in your life, is a liberating exercise. The meditation helps to break the numbing stranglehold of complacency and familiarity. Gradually, you begin to sense the mystery and magic of yourself. You realize that you are not the helpless owner of a deadened life but rather a temporary guest gifted with blessings and possibilities you could neither invent nor earn.

Maybe the characters in my story aren’t the only ones hidden behind the façade of familiarity. Could I be full of mystery as well? Could you? I love the idea of viewing myself and others as strangers who have just stepped ashore. Of course, I love the comfort and ease of the familiar, but the thought of the unknown brings new excitement to the relationships I am already experiencing.

For now, the CliffsNotes version of my life will have to wait. To be honest, living my story is a full time job. And now I’ve realized I have more to discover about the characters in my story. Living with their mystery and mine should hold a lot more surprises ahead. I sure do love surprises.

31 dAYS


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