My wife and I have granted each other permission to give a signal when one of us starts repeating his/herself in public.
If I see her discreetly making eye contact with me and holding up two fingers, she is not signaling V for Victory. She is letting me know I’m telling a story for at least the second time.
When she gives me that sign, I’ll decide whether I should apologize to the listeners or continue pontificating. If it’s the latter, it’s because I believe, even though I have old material, I have a new audience.
If she disagrees, we can have what we call a “later conversation.” (That’s because we are nothing if not civil, and 100 percent committed to not discussing, in front of others, matters on which we might disagree).
As I said, I am permitted to give the signal to her too. Not surprisingly, since we instituted this arrangement, I seem to receive the signal more than I give it.
That’s only fitting. I’m an introvert by nature, which means I’m not energized by people. I’m also easily intimidated and can become uncomfortable quickly in social settings.
To alleviate all of that, I’ll tell a story to keep the conversation going. Listeners are welcome to hold up two fingers if it’s one I’ve previously told them. Or, since they’re probably not familiar with this system, they are more than welcome to just stop me mid-sentence.
I probably write stories better than I tell them, which is what I try to do in this space. Some 400 columns in, I’ve been guilty of repeating myself even here. I try not to do that, or at least tell you when I am doing it.
But if you need to give me the signal, send me an email that simply says, “Two fingers!” I will get the message.
More than I enjoy telling stories, I love listening to them. The older I get, the more I realize how many there are around me. I regret not asking my parents to tell me more about experiences from their earlier lives.
Why did my mother for many years live with her great-grandmother? How was it my father decided to hitchhike across the country from Arkansas to California in his early twenties, and what did his parents think about that?
Those are a couple of examples of stories that died with them, and there are many more I wish I had asked them to tell.
As I said, I’m often uncomfortable in social settings, so in addition to telling a story, I’ll ask questions of others when I find myself in those situations.
Those questions don’t have to be probing but, more often than not, they lead to an interesting story that helps put me at ease and, I hope, convey to the storyteller I’m genuinely interested in what he/she has to say.
The idea of story has evolved over the past 20 years or so. It’s a huge concept in marketing, with experts getting paid big bucks to help companies tell their stories and increase profits as a result.
Donald Miller, well known author of “Blue Like Jazz” and other non-fiction works I have devoured, moved to Nashville a few years ago and built an entire company around stories and how they affect our lives and our businesses.
In the faith space, we often talk about our stories, the story God is telling and/or the one He might be telling through us. Jesus himself told stories known as parables.
There are all kinds of blogs and podcasts with a storytelling theme. I was particularly moved recently by one (a podcast) in which the host, a therapist, was asking questions of a guest about his perception of himself.
When the guest, a professed Christian, confessed a litany of negative thoughts and feelings about himself, the host reminded him how that would be the opposite of the Gospel story of redemption.
The host told him that if those harmful thoughts and feelings were predominant, maybe he was in the wrong story, and maybe it was time to change to another one.
That’s incredibly reassuring. I am writing a story and I am part of one, but both are still being written.
As the author, I can change direction any time. And as a character in the larger one being written by my creator, I can help write the part about me.
And if I happen to repeat myself, that’s OK. He’s not going to hold up two fingers.
Bob McKinney is a longtime Brentwood resident, happy husband and proud father, father-in-law and grandfather. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.