Whenever I meet someone new, I always ask them one question. If you were stranded on a desert island and could have one thing, what would you choose? Of all the answers I’ve come to expect; some answers still surprise me. People have such a diverse way of thinking and interpreting a question, and so they answer unexpectedly. The answer is usually always different. Occasionally you’ll get the joker who thinks they can trick the system. They’ll ask for an unlimited amount of something, usually food. Then I remind them that it isn’t a wish, it isn’t magic; it’s a story of survival. Eventually, you will perish on this island. But you can have one thing to bring you comfort for a short period. What would it be? I try to be truthful with myself and think of the one vice in my life. The incredibly unassuming object: lip balm. The truth is, I don’t smoke, I hardly drink, I don’t care for chocolate, I don’t need material things to make me happy. But I do get incredibly uncomfortable if I have to go for more than half an hour without lip balm. My choice seems somehow made for me. if I were to consider the question emotionally. I’d like to take my favourite book or a collection of photos of my favourite places. In practical terms, however, it seems lip balm defines my choices in life.
As I struck up a conversation of this topic for what seemed like the thousandth time. Breaking the ice with my musings on desert islands. Scratching the surface to discover the fundamental personality traits of my new found friends. I began to realise my life had become a series of stories. It became my job to justify their splendour. To tell tales of mystery and secrets. Chronicles of ecstasy and sorrow. Anecdotes of adventure and disaster. Perilous, incredulous, and stupendous. To clearly narrate the aftermath of simple stupidity, describe accounts of emotional defeat, and passionately convey the awe of a defining moment, person, subject, or place. It was easy to define the details, natural to form a story arch. Because the stories were all totally and unequivocally, true.
It was midway through May and the weather was formidable. The clouds clung to the horizon in a great white mass. There was a stillness in the air, much like the calm before a raging storm. I found myself sinking into the churning hot waters of a hot tub with three strangers. Each of them surveying the company with interest. I was reminded that it was always in the far-flung corners of the world, with people of diverse heritage that I had just met; that I seemed to find the most commonality. We were kindred spirits, all here for the same thing. Searching, thinking, doing, living. At home around the familiar, at times it felt like anything but. Like trying to arrange a tea party with a pride of lions who spoke English, and could understand English, but their reference points were so beyond different that no one could agree. The discussion would descend into chaos. Possibly with someone losing an arm.
I had mentioned an event that had occurred recently that could have ended with my death. Three sets of eyes and ears perked up and urged me to tell the story. There I was again in my element. I was simultaneously within myself; telling the story. And without, witnessing my own story from the outside. My audience seemed captivated by my account of almost losing my life the day I almost drowned in quick mud. They nodded along, agreeing to my intrigue at finding a waterfall in the wilderness. Narrowed their eyes as I described cautiously clambering over slippery rocks to get behind it. Gasping at the moment I realised I was knee deep in thick, glutinous mud, my feet sinking further with each step. Their hearts beating in time with my quickening panic. Relief washing over them when they remembered it had all ended fine as I was sitting there before them. Eager for more, they requested a second tale. As a series of episodes floated to the forefront of my mind, a pattern began to emerge. The legend of my life seemed to be fraught with disaster. A series of stepping stones from one mishap to the next.
The tragedies that fraught certain years and events so thoroughly I thought I would never escape the circle of my own resounding dread. Was I in a tragedy or a comedy? When placed out in front of me, the pieces of my life formed a puzzle of sorts. It became difficult to differentiate real life from the narrative. Events that brought me from one happy moment to the next. Full of danger, sadness, and frustration. In the moment It always felt impossible, I remembered intense fear, a yearning for respite, and a moment to relax. Looking back on events was always more simple than living through them. Emotions less raw, like looking at a faded photograph. As I sat, pensive in the hot tub, passing the storytelling baton to the next player; a sense of realisation washed over me. Would I still feel distressed to know my hardships were for the sake of others, that these stories would eventually go on to help people battle through their own? Eventually, I came to accept the nuance of events as they were happening. I faced peril thinking it would make for a good story if I survived to tell the tale. That I, and only I could tell my stories the way they must be told. I had lived through them, and here I was on the other side. Life constantly throwing me these curveballs I could either try to dodge or fully embrace. I chose to embrace them, I chose to take the rough with the smooth and the joy with the despair. We all have our own story, I knew I needed to tell mine.