I believe we are, and we become, the stories we tell ourselves. The stories we tell ourselves are the sum of stories from God, our ancestors, environment, and our own life experience.
I have believed since I was young that I was not athletic, not physically strong. I had scoliosis as a kid and later in my twenties, I had a degenerate disc. With two back surgeries and low-grade pain as my constant companion, I felt like my back was not strong enough to handle certain activities. And at some point, I didn’t even try.
My story changed the day of the bridge climb.
A New Story
Climbing the Sydney Harbour Bridge has been on my bucket list for a long time. The attraction opened just a year before my husband and I visited Australia for the first time on our honeymoon. I remembered thinking, ‘How cool, but not for me.’ But there was a seed of curiosity, a nagging desire, to see what the experience of climbing to the top of a 440-foot steel arch bridge would be like.
It’s 2018 and we’re back in Sydney, and it’s now or never. I’m not getting any younger and soon, my old body won’t be able to handle the experience. Our son is old enough to join us on this adventure. And so it has come to this: We’re climbing the bridge.
The whole thing’s estimated to be about four hours long. We had to first empty our bladders, knowing we would have no access to the toilet while climbing. They gave us fleece jumpsuits to wear and lots of gear, including a headlamp and walkie-talkie, all strapped securely to our bodies (for if anything fell, it would cause havoc on the cars below). Then they had our entire group do a simulated climb, just to get our heads around what the experience would be like outside. Finally, it was time.
As we started to ascend, we caught glimpses of the Sydney Opera House on our right. The sun was just setting, and the sky was pink and lavender in hue. Climbing vertically was challenging on the arms and legs. Glancing down, it was nerve-wracking to see the waters below. We took our time, making lots of stops to take in the view. Finally, we reached the top arch of the bridge. I couldn’t believe the amazing view of Sydney – as far as the eye could see! By then it was nighttime, and the city lights, as well as the traffic lights from the cars below, joined forces to create a breathtaking cityscape.
The bridge climb felt momentous. I did something I never thought I could do. I climbed to the top of a bridge.
Listening to the voice of the Master Storyteller, I let go of my fears, and God graciously replaced the story I have internalized with a new story. I realize God has been doing this in many areas of my life, including the stories I believe about colonization. Decolonization of the mind takes time because of the stories we were told, and the stories we continue to tell ourselves.
With colonization, our stories get removed and erased, and in its place, stories are told of us that’s not true. Decolonization reclaims the true story and invites us to believe.
Stories were told of how the aboriginal/indigenous peoples in Australia were “less than” the Europeans who colonized them. They didn’t have the intelligence and sophistication. They weren’t as scientific or innovative as the Europeans.
The day after climbing the bridge, my family and I took part in an Aboriginal History and Heritage Tour of the Rocks, the oldest part of Sydney, Australia. During our two-hour tour, we heard another story – one handed down orally from one generation to another. It’s part origin story, part rulebook, part history from the margins.
Our storyteller/guide is a descendant of one of the 29 aboriginal tribes in the Sydney area. She starts by showing us a fern-like plant near the water that served as a natural water filtration source for centuries, keeping the bodies of water clean. Nibbling on the plant extracts liquid, providing hydration. It can also be used for weaving and making baskets.
When the Europeans first came to Sydney Harbour, they didn’t know about these plants and their value. They removed most of them, clearing the land for settlement. Consequently, the water got more and more polluted, and they got sick.
Our storyteller/guide showed us the beauty in the details of her people’s story – the reasons behind why they lived the way they lived, and their many scientific and innovative contributions to the world. The colonizers missed out on this beauty when they didn’t learn her people’s story. But it’s also important for her to reclaim her story – the true story – and tell it to the world.
We have stories that need to be reclaimed for they have been removed and erased. For those who have been colonized, finding our stories can take a long time. Our stories may be lost or in pieces.
Next month is Filipino American History Month (FAHM) in the United States. I think about what stories I will tell my son. I am looking forward to celebrating with other Filipino Americans at work and sharing stories. But I am also sad that so much of our story has been removed and erased by colonization, and we are still reclaiming our story.