It has long been said that we are the stories that we tell ourselves and I couldn’t agree more. It’s human to tell stories, and for me, writing has helped me shape mine into one of ambition, resolve, strength and encouragement. Through reflection, I’ve found the strength in struggle and realized the opportunities that adversity has afforded me. Writing has provided me with an avenue to shape the stories that I tell myself and that has benefitted me more than I could express in words. In other words, telling stories has helped me define who I am, what I stand for and where I want to go.

I edit life after it happens.

However, I’m here to tell you that I write everything in hindsight (duh). To be more clear, I live experiences and through rumination I derive meaning, uncover good, choose strength and create the outcome that benefits me. Reflection allows me to spin everything in my favor because I edit life after it happens under the premise that life is happening for me, not to me. The sole rule in the stories I tell is that everything happens on purpose for a purpose, even if I don’t know what it is. More than anything else, my writing is a place where I can make sense of life; it’s where I give up control, practice putting faith first and find the good in all things.

“Good stories are not written. They are rewritten.”

Phyllis Whitney

We all tell stories, and by definition, stories are told after the fact. However, I had a recent experience that brought a surreal awareness that I was in the midst of a story that I’m going to tell for years to come. This blog is about how I’m going to write that story, as it happens, so that it needs no editing.

Here we go…

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For those of you reading this blog in the year 2050 (wishful thinking), let me fill you in on current events. It’s the year 2020 and COVID-19 is changing life as we know it. Each day, more people are infected, more people are passing and life feels just a bit more eerie. Businesses are being asked to close and people are being asked to practice “social distancing” to stop the spread of the virus. The circumstances are placing immense stress on economics, logistics, relationships and so much more. It feels that time is moving slower and that life is much harder.

“Write down everything that happens in the story, and then in your second draft make it look like you knew what you were doing all along.”

Neil Gaiman

If you know me, then you know that I am a “positive person,” but from time to time, I can’t help but let the uncertainty of this novel situation to stir anxious thoughts and make hope hard. The previous weeks have been filled with sleepless nights, moments of darkness and feelings of doubt. It seems that as much as I make an effort to look up and smile, life makes more of an effort to trip me up and knock me down (the details of what I’m experiencing are for another blog that will come soon enough). I was feeling especially down the other day and I decided to take a walk through East Falls, the neighborhood in Philadelphia where I live. It was overcast, cold and raining, but I didn’t bring an umbrella and I didn’t bring music. It was just me walking, left alone with my thoughts. I didn’t have a plan but I just knew that I needed to think. Something amazing happened.

I realized I was in the story right now.

Before I knew it, I caught myself telling a story. In a strange moment of awareness, I jumped out of my body and saw things from a third person point of view. I continued to walk alongside myself and I realized that I am living in the midst of an incredible story that someday I will rewrite and tell over and over again. This is the opportunity that I usually find in hindsight. This season of life, full of challenges and hardship, is the struggle that precedes strength and the possibility that is found in adversity.

We are all living through a time that will define us for years to come.

If you write, then you know that the second draft is where you make it look like you knew what you were doing in the first draft. I realized on that walk that I can write the first draft of this story, as it happens (right now), so that it doesn’t need to be rewritten. I can know what I’m doing right now and for me, here’s what that looks like.

I’m going to decide who I want to be, what I want to stand for and where I want to go. I’m going to be relentless in the pursuit of doing good and I’m going to do the right thing even especially when it’s hard. I’m going to actively look for the good in life as it happens and I’m going to put one foot in front of the other no matter what happens. I’m going to be the best version of myself and I’m going to leave every place better than I found it. . I’m going to lift people up every chance that I get and I’m going to control only the things that I can control. I’m going to be there for the people who need me to be there and I’m going to take care of me. I’m going to embrace the struggle and get stronger through it all. I’m going to lean into God and look up for guidance, whether I feel like it or not. I’m going to trust that He is working all things for good, even when it doesn’t make sense.

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This is the struggle that I so often claim to love. It’s coming in a different form than I’m used to, but it’s struggle nonetheless so I’m going to embrace it and grow through it. Regardless of how you’re feeling, I want you to know that you’re not alone. This is a tough time for everyone and even if I don’t know you, I’m here for you and I mean that. Before I close, let me throw in one more quote to drive it home.

I’m writing a first draft and reminding myself that I’m simply shoveling sand into a box so that later I can build castles.

Shannon Hale

For me, life has always been the first draft, where I shovel sand into the sandbox to be reshaped at a later date. This time, I’m realize that this is the opportunity to build the castle. Sure, I might need to shape it up down the road, but for now, I’m committing to building with purpose.

This is your first draft, what will you do with it?

Joe Rinaldi, PT, DPT

IG: @joerinaldi.dpt

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