My whole life a set of Christmas Glassware has taken up residence in our cupboard. They are decorated with holly and berries around the bottom and gold trim on the top. Each glass with a slight ripple effect, giving it a sophistication only known to fine china.
This glassware has been part of the May family longer than I have, giving me the impression they are valuable. We have never gotten rid of them when we hold garage sales or placed them in the goodwill donation pile. I always imagined my mom bought them one year at Macy’s for when the annual Christmas progressive dinner took place in our old neighborhood. I imagined these glasses were filled with eggnog and enjoyed by many. I thought these glasses were a part of a story with a cherished memory.
My fanciest glassware has a terrapin turtle printed on it, so these glasses rimmed with gold must be valuable.
Recently I asked my mom the story behind this glassware. I thought she would tell me a story about it being a wedding gift or how it was something she saved up to buy in her 20’s. Her reply?
“Oh, I got those at Arby’s one year. They were selling them and I thought they were cute.”
Suddenly these glasses I had admired for 20 plus years were reduced to an adult version of happy meal toy. All these years I handled them with care. Afraid to break one or scratch the paint which I now know is probably lead based. I thought this glassware was precious and hard to replace if broken. For once, I was wrong.
Sure enough, etched in green at the bottom of the glass is an Arby’s trademark sign with the year 1983. Here I was, thinking that if I broke one, I’d be destroying something fragile and special.
I find it fascinating the stories we tell ourselves about the world we live in. We give great value to things which are actually monetarily useless and can reduce something of grand importance to a point that we are unwavering when handling it.
A good friend once mentioned that after her divorce, her friends didn’t want to upset her by inviting her to a gathering where everyone else would be attending with their spouse. The story they had told themselves was that she would feel left out if she attended and she was quick to correct them. She told them it was her decision if she would attend or not, it was her choice to make regarding her feelings, not those of the host. Her friends were writing a story for her. They had written her a story and we’re acting on their perceived ideas.
As a single person, I know this feeling. People assume I will be the odd man out attending, as a party of one. Sometimes yes, I do feel as the odd man out, but that’s for me to feel that way. Not being invited simply because friends want to protect me, is placing a value on a story they don’t know. Honestly, not being invited feels worse than being a party of one at the dinner table.
Placing an unknown value on another person’s feelings can lead us down the path of good intentions that fall flat.
In the church world, we often make people our project and write a story for them. We give them a value and a to-do list in efforts to raise their value. The church rarely sits down and simply listens to the story being told. There’s value in every story and it is not our job to narrate another person’s story. As a church we so often assume a narrative that isn’t true, only to realize we’ve missed the mark when it comes to meeting a person’s needs.
Next time we find ourselves writing another person’s narrative, let’s put down the pen and listen to the story they have already written. If you are worried about protecting a friend’s emotional well-being, don’t exclude them for fear of upsetting them, invite them and let them continue to write their story. We are all the narrator’s in our own story so let’s give everyone the ability to write their life story.
Let’s stop giving an assumed value and start asking the story behind a person’s life.
I’ve spent 20 years placing a value on a set of glassware that turned out to nothing more than a fast food chain promotion. This set of holiday glassware that is tied to my childhood has no monetary value. I know because I googled it and it’s about $24 for a set of 6. I have no idea what will come of this set of glassware or the story that will follow them. Maybe I will keep them for years to come. Maybe they will be sent to goodwill as we clean out the house. Either way, this set of glassware I thought to be valuable still is, I just needed to ask the right question to find out the real story.