Identifying our Through-Line

Our Through-Line (or central theme) works together with the Dramatic Structure to give unity to our life stories. The Through-Line carries forward the meaning of our story, running through the various scenes and summaries that make up our text.

Most stories have a Through-line / Theme of some sort, though it may not be directly stated. As we step back and reflect on memories we have collected, we might ask ourselves if a majority of them say something particular about life. Do they convey a sense of feeling or a larger truth about life as we understand it? We may find clues by considering the main problem we have sought to resolve or the primary conflict we have experienced in our varied life circumstances. What generalization can we make that ties together the various parts of our story? I trust that none of us will feel about the events in our lives as Shakespeare’s Macbeth did at the end of his: 

Life’s…is a tale
Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,
Signifying nothing.

Often, this process of discernment is not easy. We have lived many years and our experiences seem many and varied. One helpful approach is to reflect on our Character Arc—how have we changed from the beginning of the story to its conclusion? 

Here are a few additional steps that may help you to identify your Through Line: 

  • Ask yourself, “If my life was a movie or a story book, what would I say it is about? 
  • Ask several friends who know you well if this “gist” (Through-Line) seems to describe you. Alternately, what word or words would they use to describe the “gist” of your life?
  • As you “listen to your life” and try to understand what it is about, ask: “What have I felt called to be or do?  What has been my main vocation or role through the years? (This may relate to the nature of our employment, but often it is larger than that).
  • If you were to describe your life and who you are using just one action verb, what word would that be? (e.g. caring, remembering, discovering, learning, encouraging, adventuring, etc.).
    • If you expanded that word into a phrase, which words would you add?
    • And if you expanded that phrase into a sentence, which words would you add?

As I reflect on who I am and who I’ve been, one word seems to be central—LEARNING.

  • Reflection 1: In conversations with friends, I often have expanded this one-word description—“learning”— into the phrase “the joy of learning.”
  • Reflection 2: As well, my pleasure in learning is seldom solitary. It tends to come in the company of others, especially in a discussion about ideas and discoveries. It comes in the sharing of knowledge. 

That leads me to say that the Through-Line in my life—the central theme that gives it continuity—is:  “Sharing the Joy of Learning.

Here are other Through Lines that people have shared with me:

  • “Being a servant leader, not a cheerleader” (a community businessman)
  • “I am a seeker on a journey” (a southern Manitoba farmer)
  • “Committed to accompaniment: listening, discerning, advising” (a chaplain)
  • “Reaching out to students with strength and joy (an elementary teacher)
  • “Trusting the kindness of strangers” (a woman who moved many times during her childhood and adult life, always having to adapt to new circumstances)

Our Through-Line or central theme can be stated in different ways. Some statements may be better than others, but certainly there is more than one way to express it. The important thing, as we combine our memories into a larger, longer account is to be aware of what is this connecting cord in our life story. This knowledge will help us significantly as we make the difficult determination of what material fits with this story project and what needs to be left out and filed away for future writing project.