Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Story as Window to the Soul: A Tribute to Stephen Lee Bussewitz

All of us are much larger than the good or
bad stories we tell about ourselves.Don’t get caught in
“my” story, “my” hurts, “my” agenda. It’s too small.
                                                                          ~Richard Rohr

I am a lover of stories.  Stories are a window to the soul.  They are metaphors that allow us to know, understand and embrace a life as gift.  Stories lead us experience and embrace the good and the bad.  They are a springboard for reflection that open us to live more deeply.  Because of what I know to be true about the power of story, the quote above that I received the as part of a daily meditation did not resonate.  It seemed to be contrary to what I know about story.  Is it contrary as I first believed? I suppose it depends on the story and the storyteller.  Here is one of my stories.  Actually, it is a story within a story…

Recently I experienced a death in my family.  My ex-husband, who is the father of my children and who has slowly and chronically become disabled by Parkinson’s Disease, from which he has suffered for over twenty years, passed away. Through the marriage and divorce and after, as Steve’s health slowly and steadily declined, I remained a caregiver and advocate.   Steve is a friend and for good and bad, he has touched my life and has been one of those people who have taught me about who I am.  Because of our relationship I am better.   I had the privilege of giving his eulogy with my daughter at his funeral several weeks ago.   At that time I told the following story…

“Steve had a bit of a Superman tendency.  “I can do anything.  It just has to happen.” That was a motto of Steve’s.  And most of the time, the tenacity that he would harness with this motto would make just what he wanted to happen to actually happen.  Like Superman, he did climb tall buildings.  A well-known and often revisited story about Steve is his trip to the top of what is now St. Ann’s Rehab Center.  Steve lived in the nursing home at St. Ann’s.  At the time of his climb, the rehab center was just a shell of a building.  Steve was out on St. Ann’s grounds and decided to explore, despite the construction site and do not enter signs.  He saw and he climbed—with his walker all the way to the top of this nine-story unfinished shell of a building.  He got to the roof and realized he couldn’t get down.  So he stood near the edge calling for help till someone came to bring him down to the ground.”

I love this story about Steve.  At the time that this story occurred, I hated this story.  At the time I got caught up in “my story…my agenda…my hurt.”  I got caught up in yet another story of Steve doing exactly what he wanted to do, disregarding the rules.  If truth be told, I was probably even a bit embarrassed.  Why would he do that?  I couldn’t let the story be bigger than the box that at the time I put Steve in.  At that moment the story was small and I was mad at a man who couldn’t live within his limits.

That’s just it.  Steve pushed his limits.  With what he could do, with people and against his disease.   This kind of tenacity is EXACTLY what propelled him on, living life on his terms.  He was a Superman of sorts.  He suffered.  And he climbed tall buildings.  He suffered and he played more golf on the St. Ann’s putting course than any resident there—beating many very able people.  (They hung a golf course outside of his bedroom door in recognition of something he loved and refused to give up.  He was talking to Ben in the past month before his death about wanting to get out to play golf—despite the fact that he could no longer get out of a wheel chair.)  He suffered and he walked across the busy four-lane Portland Avenue with his walker, from St. Ann’s to Rochester General Hospital, wanting to visit a friend who was in the hospital.  He found ways to try to get to the chapel on the first floor of St. Ann’s when no one could take him down.  He kept people hopping.  That tenacity was his gift.  And it served him well.  This gift of Steve’s offers a lesson for all of us.  It teaches all of us how to not accept the status quo.  It teaches us to plow through and dig deep when it seems that no doors are open.  It shows us that despite adversity, we can find a way.

This story—once small to me—has become very large.  It has opened me up.  It has become a life lesson.  It has propelled me to compassion and a greater understanding of chronic disease and tenacity.  It has helped me to be more tenacious.   More tender.  More touchable.   If we only live out the stories of our life, if we only walk the steps of the story, as Rohr’s quote above implies, the event only becomes a story and most probably a forgotten story.  If we embrace the story—if we let the story teach us—the story expands from smallness to greatness to teach us about life…about self…about humanity.   Our story is a window to the soul.

Thank you to Two Writing Teachers for dedicating space and time for teachers and teachers of literacy to come together to share ideas, practice and life experience.


  1. Deborah, I am so sorry for your loss. You are and your family are in my thoughts. What a lovely tribute. I think Steve (on top of the roof!) would love reading the words you've written here. Great point about broadening our stories. Beautiful. Thank you!

    1. I love this, Irene! Steve again on top of the roof! Lovely image.

  2. Sorry for your loss, Deborah. But grateful that you shared Steve and his story with us today. He sounds like a remarkable spirit.

  3. As I've told you before, sorry for your and your children's loss. It seems that Steve didn't let his story stop him at all. What a triumph and example for those who knew him, Deborah. "if we let the story teach us" is wise.

  4. My condolences to you and your family on what appears to be the loss of a man bigger than the world he was forced to live in. He reminds me a lot of my Uncle Wally (who also passed recently). He loved to tell stories. :) My favorite line in this Slice is: I couldn’t let the story be bigger than the box that at the time I put Steve in. I know that I have a tendency to do this, too, and it is only with the passing of time that I am able to let the story grow. Thank you for a beautiful and thought-provoking Slice.

  5. I love this story! Even in the midst of grief, there are the memories that connect us, that give us the stories that will in return, heal us. Thank you for sharing your story and memories! You have given me ideas for some new stories.