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How to Multiply the Meaning in Your Life

We’ve officially arrived in Grosse Pointe, Michigan.

I say officially because I got my first piece of mail at our summer address.

So here’s the funny story: Shawn saw this flyer on the dining room table amid various used tissues and other paper scraps and said almost disdainfully, “Where did that come from?”

I gave him a look and said, “That is a hand-addressed invitation to an art opening. My client, Rachel Gordon, sent it to me all the way from Jerusalem.”

Now, what’s funny to me about that story is that Rachel’s current work involves photographing garbage and cast-off items she notices in the street and collecting those photographs on her website, imnoticing.com (which is the site she launched while I was coaching her a few years ago). She writes of the project:

There are so many things in each of our worlds to notice that most of it gets filtered out.  I find that as soon as I break through the filter a bit and start to notice things, that I tend to see even more examples of whatever it is – whether it’s thing outside of myself or things that are more personal.  I take photos of things that I notice.  I also notice things that I can’t take photos of – like thoughts I have or quirky ways of doing things.

So I love that her beautiful flyer looked like just another piece of junk mail to Shawn. And to me it looked like a precious personal connection to Rachel and a celebration of her creative work coming to fruition.

I had the story to give meaning to that paper, and Shawn didn’t.

Now, here we are in the first weeks of our new life, free to live wherever we want, and we choose Grosse Pointe, this leafy suburban community on the shores of Lake St. Clair. A choice that might make some people go, “You’re living in Detroit?” Until they hear the story that gives meaning to our choice.

My slightly younger sister, Melody, lives in Grosse Pointe with her husband Ben and their two kids. They’ve been in Michigan for years now, such a long drive from Ottawa that we see them two or three times a year at most.

When Shawn and I were playing with options for our first year itinerary back in the winter, we came up with this idea of Grosse Pointe as a pleasant place to land after we left Ottawa. We could rent an apartment, hang out at the pool, go for bike rides and share meals with Mel and her family. The cousins would have a hoot together. Lia and Nico could go to the local daycare a few days a week. Easy peasy lemon-squeezy.

And I have to say, things have worked out beautifully. We have an air-conditioned flat a few blocks from Mel and Ben’s place (and that AC has been a godsend during this heat wave!) Our two families visit the park and the library and the splash pad together. Shawn makes pizza for everybody on Friday nights, just like he used to back in Ottawa.

And I’m getting more quality time with my sister than I’ve had since we lived together in Toronto during university. Just this morning we bought zinnias and peaches at the Eastern Market, had breakfast on The Hill, and practiced music for church tomorrow. And that was just one day! I have thirty more before we leave, priceless precious days.

You don’t know what my life means until I tell you the story.

Creative people need meaningful lives the way our bodies need food. We crave significant work that leaves a legacy. We don’t want our talents to go to waste. We want to make a difference. And a wonderful way to multiply the meaning of our lives is to tell the story. So when others see what we did, the choices we made, they’ll understand why, and perhaps be moved to make their own meaning.

Yes, telling your story takes effort and makes you vulnerable. Examining your life might require you to face truths you would rather ignore. But for meaning-hungry folks like us, it’s worth the cost.

I’ve been quiet online lately. Partly it’s summer and I want to be outdoors. Partly I’m adjusting to a new normal. And partly I’ve been gestating a creative project, a new way to tell my story, that has me so excited I just want to turn everything else off. I look forward to unveiling it for you when the time comes.

Tell me, what’s going on in your life that needs a story to make its meaning clear? What new ways are you finding to tell your stories? I’d love to hear.

P.S. Young Adult writer Lindsey Roth Culli is giving away a copy of Sara Zarr’s as-yet-unreleased novel, How to Save a Life, which I am desperate to read. (She’s giving away an iPod Shuffle too, but if I win that I would trade it for Sara’s book in a heartbeat.) The contest closes tomorrow, so check it out!

P.P.S. You know Shawn and I rented Grosse Pointe Blank the minute we had a chance. From the Grosse Pointe Library, no less.

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