Did you know that Khaled Sheikh Mohammed (KSM), the so-called mastermind of the 9/11 attacks, graduated from NC A&T with a degree in mechanical engineering? And he’s recently written a manifesto in which he argues that Islam does not advocate violence.
These stories about KSM have forced me to consider him beyond the terrorist caricature cage I set up for him in my mind. They remind me that all people, even those who commit unforgivably evil acts, contain multitudes.
These stories expanded my perspective. Other stories can limit it. Those are the only two kinds of stories we tell.
When we’re young, society repeatedly tells us stories that limit our perspective: don’t cross the street; be careful what you ask for; do not anger the gods. These stories encourage cautious behavior meant to keep us safe.
If we’re not aware of it though, these limiting stories can secretly sabotage our success in adulthood. The measured caution of childhood becomes the fear of change in adulthood, and thus we resist major life changes that we are being called to make.
In his 80s, painter Henri Matisse no longer had the dexterity in his hands to use a paintbrush. But just because this ability died did not mean that his artistic talent did. Playing with his granddaughter’s scissors, he realized that he could manage to cut construction paper. And thus Matisse’s paper cutout period was born, and this lauded phase of his career lasted the remainder of his life.
Matisse realized that his God-given talent was not in the form that it took. His ability to express himself artistically was not dependent on a particular ability, but on his willingness to find an outlet that best exhibited his creativity, despite any physical ailments. Like Matisse, if we can divorce ourselves of the notion that our gifts must take a specific form, then we are free to re-invent ourselves while living out our highest self-expression.
My mother-in-law is following Matisse’s example, though at a far more youthful age than he. A high school English and Latin teacher for decades, she won’t be teaching in a classroom setting for much longer. But she is setting forth a new path as a storyteller, sharing her infectious love of the art form with the wider community.
Go see “An Evening of Storytelling” with Lee Howard tomorrow night. Sampson Community Theatre, 7:30 p.m. Admission is free. She’ll tell many entertaining stories, but the best story is the one she’s telling not with words, but by her example. With a proper dose of courage, all of us are free to forge new stories about ourselves and change our life’s direction.
See you at the show!