The Great Stories Are Always Unlikely

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Our fifth grandchild was born yesterday. He came to the world in the usual way, but there were planes to catch, and bills to pay….forgive me while I channel some melancholic Harry Chapin. We met our third grandson, Arthur Thomas, in the aftermath of a robust labor. Our son and daughter-in-law were in that blissful state of exhaustive satisfaction from massive exertion brought to its close. At least the close of round one.

Looking at this big boy (9 lbs 3oz), I was struck by the unlikely fact that he was born on his Nanny’s birthday. Then I thought, how did he end up with the name “Arthur”? Here he is in Indianapolis, Indiana, a state within the United States, born with a winding genealogy that includes English, German, Mexican, Japanese, and who knows what other curious combination of nationality, geography, or genetic material.

This morning, I wonder about the story ahead for Arthur…and his parents. What great things might he do? What adventures might he have? Who will he encounter? Who will he become? Where will this little family makes its mark on the world? I suspect it will be a great story. I suspect that much of it will be wondrously unlikely.

A friend recently wrote me a note telling me that he had just finished Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen and considered it “the perfect novel.” Elizabeth Bennett’s unlikely encounters, budding love affair, and ultimate “happy-ever-after” with the wealthy, dashing, and occasionally awkward Mr. Darcy makes for a great story. Of course, the great stories are always unlikely – at least while they’re happening.

Considering great stories a bit further, it seems that the random events that comprise these lives we live are all pretty unlikely. How exactly did I come to be sitting in front of this keyboard this morning? Ok, maybe this moment doesn’t merit “great story” status but it does support the argument: we are all massive collections of unlikeliness. The unique timing and collision of our singular person with the world around us is miraculously unlikely. It is only in the tracing of it back along its many byways that there is any hope of making sense of it – process that will do little to lessen the unlikely miracle of it all.

So what? We’re talking about “great stories,” right? Yes. Consider Beowulf and his heroic battle with Grendel in the defense of King Hrothgar’s Danish kingdom. Epic. How about Odysseus? Or Achilles? Or Frodo Baggins? Or Elizabeth Bennet? The great stories don’t stop there. It is not only in the imaginative world of epic poems and fictional novels that we find them. Alexander the Great had a pretty interesting story. What about Joan of Arc? Some people find the story of the founding of the United States quite compelling.

These were all great stories. And, they were all very unlikely.

We come to discover that life in all its forms is always a great, and unlikely, story. Arthur’s story is only beginning to unfold. His parents will write the first few lines but he will soon seize the reins of his own adventures. His choices will dictate much of how it evolves but there is plenty of room for twists and turns. He will encounter the monsters of the world as well as the heroes. He will be given some easy paths to meander along and he will also have to battle intense climbs. Much of it will be pretty unlikely.

Looking around today, take a moment to consider the miraculously unlikeliness of your own story. Where you sit this very moment is the result of a wildly winding road through place, time, and people. A compilation of success, failure, effort, luck, and so many different forces acting upon you as well as on your behalf. Yours is a unique story, highly unlikely, and, dare I say it? Great.

Yes it is. Reading the lines of your book, we’d find it all: loss, love, joy, struggle, hurt, healing, discovery, wins, and countless moments moving between. We’d see wise decisions and foolish choices. We’d find some angels and some devils moving within your narrative. We’d laugh. We’d cry. We’d cringe. But all along the way, we’d have to acknowledge the greatness, and great unlikelihood of most of it. It would be one-of-a-kind. The great stories always are.

Today, our family is adding a new chapter to its story. Arthur will undoubtedly add many unlikely lines to the great novel of our lives as he finds his way toward his own unique place in the world. I smile knowing that in all of its glorious unpredictability, it will be great. May we always be able to see the beautiful unlikeliness of our own stories no matter how the world judges them.

Showing 4 comments
  • Sherry

    Love your post today. We walk our path and remember the joys and sorrows that brought us today. Congrats on your 5th grandchild and my 9th great !

  • Dave Worland

    We just celebrated last week of fifth grandchild‘s first birthday! Her chapter fits your narrative perfectly!

  • Chris Kaufman

    Well done Phillip! Oh what a story it will be.

  • Mom & Dad

    Interesting how your observations and writings continue to add to and define your own story Phillip as Mom & I sit back in awe and pleasant thoughts. Nice piece Phillip.

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