Thursday, October 10

In the Dark Night of Kingsgate

Recently, I heard one of the best pieces ever on This American Life, a radio show.  It's called "How I got into College," but it ends up being about the way we tell the stories in our lives.

Think about the stories you tell the most.  What does it mean that you chose to tell those particular stories, and what do the facts you emphasize say about you?  In the main storyline on "How I got into College," the subject is shown to be incorrect about some points in his story about how he got into college.  But he won't believe that he's wrong on the details because his story is part of the bigger picture about what he believes.  It's really interesting.

This got me thinking about the stories we all tell.  Even if they are true, the types of stories we tell and the details we emphasize really do say something about what is important to us.  They even shape our reality.  Today I was listening to recorded conference session called "Emotional Doubt" by Gary Habermas, and the point that stuck out was about how our beliefs shape our viewpoint and emotions.  He said that if A = life circumstances and C = feelings, many people think that A leads directly to C.  But in reality B (our beliefs) have a much bigger impact on C than A does.

My parents like to talk about how I began speaking coherently at a very young age, and would amaze my grandmother by memorizing signs and appearing to read them.  Their stories show their pride in me.  Of course, I usually follow with "And it was all downhill from there!" (unless someone else says it first!)

One of my favorite stories to tell is about a crazy night in college.

It was a rainy Saturday night in October.  At the time, Lisa lived on campus at the University of Washington, did not own a cell phone, and took the bus everywhere.  She also, casually.  That is to say that the sweatshirt and camouflage pants she was wearing that day were fairly normal.  She didn't wear much make-up, and it was possible that she brushed her hair that day, but I'm not sure.

(To those who didn't live in Seattle in the 90's and early 2000's: this "style" didn't indicate self-contempt, but rather embraced the post-grunge, urban aesthetic.  I felt comfortable and cool in my clothes, and evidence suggested that I was still mildly attractive to the opposite sex - who also existed in this culture.)

That night, Lisa was going to meet a friend at a movie theater in Woodinville to watch Harry Potter.  But, the bus didn't come.  Turns out that it was the day of the Apple Cup (for the non-Washingtonians: it's biggest college football game round these parts) and buses were running about 45 minutes late.

That late bus caused Lisa to miss her first connection, and wait for another half an hour to catch the second bus on her three-bus trip. At a bus stop near the freeway, she sat looking dejected beside her duffel bag.  A couple walked up.

"Here," said the man, holding out a $20 bill.

"Oh, no," Lisa fluttered her hands in protest.

"Take it!" The man shoved the bill into her lap and quickly walked away. "Find somewhere to sleep tonight."

(Please note that I was a considerably privileged person.  My parents covered my college expenses.)

She boarded the second bus and sat with tightly clenched fists - maybe she could make the second connection?  It was close!  But not to be.  Now, as tough as she presently might appear, Lisa had be raised in a very safe and fairly posh town, and thus the dark and deserted Kingsgate Park and Ride seemed sketchy.

Through the sheen of raindrops, Lisa could make out that the next bus would not arrive for a full 55 minutes.   She didn't want to sit still in the cold bus shelter for all that time.  So she started walking, without knowing any directions.

She knew that the Woodinville shopping center was to the NNE, and also that it was the only major shopping area open in Woodinville at night.  The parking lot lights would probably be visible for some distance, especially reflected against the cloud cover.  She stayed on major roads, she prayed, and adrenaline helped her to walk quickly.

And she made it!  Google maps says that she walked about 4.5 miles.  Only half an hour late for the movie.
Now, where was her friend?

The rest of the story isn't as interesting.  Basically, Lisa's friend had gone into the movie and left Lisa's ticket at the ticket booth.  Lisa was able to convince the theater employees to let her peak into the theater, but she couldn't find her friend or her ticket.  So she called her friend's mother on the pay phone and was picked up and taken to hang out with her friend's mother, causing her friend's mother some concern that her daughter was MIA.  When her friend came back home after the movie was done everything was explained.

So, why do I tell this story?

Some of it is simply that I like reflecting on the way the world changes around us as we age.  Oh, the difference cell phones make!  There would have been no exploratory ramble through the dark suburbs if I had been able to text my friend or even look up a map.  I could have even seen that the first bus was running late and made other plans.

I really enjoy that this story, like many fairy tales, highlights how appearances can be deceiving.  The street urchin was actually a member of the upper-middle class in disguise!  Surprise!  It's funny to remember how chic I felt in my camo pants, though obviously not everyone agreed.  Also, this story contains an actual example of irony, which is lots of fun.

The story is mildly adventurous, and has a story arc.  Perhaps it could even be told with the eight-point arc that Ben thought described every story ever (it was a point of debate between us).  It reminds me that often screwy setbacks and bad planning can be resolved with determination, prayer and resiliency.  The story has a moral that is clear and a good reminder. 


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