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Our Stories; Ourselves

Our Stories; Ourselves
Robert Bergman '93

Don’t we all come from weird places? I mean, none of us are even close to the same, and yet we can all identify as human. No two people look exactly alike; even identical twins are different in the way they appear if you look close enough, and yet we all identify as Homo Sapiens because of our skeletal structure. Isn’t that amazing? We can get so caught up in the outside appearance and yet what if we look past the outside and see that we can all be similar once we get past appearances. Our bodies are a culmination of our stories, and although we are all different, we have more similarities than we can imagine.

I often look at my children and wonder, “What will their lives become?” I bet we all do this in some way, and then I also wonder, “How did we get here?” That’s the story of our lives, isn’t it?  What did we do to wind up here, now, in our personal space? It is, of course, a series of decisions that brought us to this space and time. We can place value judgments on all of those decisions and ultimately, we will, but those decisions make the stories of our lives, and we are by our human nature, storytellers.  

Each one of us lives a life of story: Tragedy and comedy and all the in-betweens, these stories make up our personal narrative and then we pass on, our lives and our stories shared by another generation. 

My life is bound in books. I still remember the first book I read on my own, a 1939 edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. The book belonged to my mom, and in the front cover, she wrote her name, address, and phone number in case she lost it.  That book sparked my love of reading and my love for living close to Hannibal, Missouri.  As a lad of eight, I completely missed much of what Twain attempted to teach his reader, but I felt the tug of the Mighty Mississippi that flowed only a few miles from my home.  

My childhood home was a little three-bedroom, one-bathroom house in Florissant that my grandfather purchased when he returned from the Pacific after World War II. My family and my career began there. When my mom married my dad, for a short time, they moved in with my grandparents in the same house; then, when both grandparents died, my parents rented the house until I returned from college and lived there with my brother for a year.  My brother went onto dental school in Kansas City, from where I just returned, and then I fell in love, and my wife and I started our new life together in that same house. Our daughter came into our lives in that house, and many of her firsts began in the same house as her grandmother.  

I related this story to the Ignatian Honors Seminar on the last night of our gatherings and study of “Story.” We sat around the table and shared a unique object that is special and essential to our life story. The power of stories brings us together. We share who we were, who we are, and who we want to become. We are a sum of our unique life experiences; they become our story.  When we tell those stories around that proverbial table, we find that we are more similar than we are different; those are the bones of who we are.

De Smet Jesuit’s Ignatian Honors seminar offers selected faculty, staff, and seniors the opportunity to dialogue about a broad issue from an academic perspective over the school year.  Each faculty participant teams up with a senior to prepare a presentation and lead the discussion during one of the group’s meetings. This year’s topic of “Story” inspired many great conversations, including an exploration of the role that music and food play in our life stories.

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