Coauthoring Meaning

The conversation that evening was sweet, as much a contributor to the celebration as the sumptuous meal and quiet candlelight at a favorite restaurant. My friend wanted to hear what had been significant for me in the year that was finishing and what I was looking forward to in the year ahead. As the evening progressed, I felt within a familiar awareness begin to build, calling me to pay attention. I sensed this evening would be an important one to remember.

Returning home, we settled onto the couch and continued talking for hours, unaware of the time until my husband proclaimed he wouldn’t make it to work the next morning if he didn’t get some sleep. After saying goodnight, my friend turned to me, her eyes finding mine as she spoke.

“It feels important to me to ask you tonight, is there anything left unspoken between us?”

Her words were an invitation to dive into the deeper water of our friendship, where darkness lingered. I had to face my fear of surrender, my fear of sinking.

Fragments of past interactions came to mind. My body remembered, too, flooding with sensations of anxiety, fear, confusion, and shame. Recognizing the importance of her invitation, the weight of her words and mine in this space, I worked to find an anchor in my breath. I consciously breathed in the spirit of peace and wisdom, breathed out judgment and fear. I returned her gaze and began to speak.

For me, one of the most significant moments in our conversation came when I recounted my efforts over the past year to name the tension I felt between us. I’d attempted to put words to the growing unease I felt internally and had perceived in her. She’d continued to assure me that we were ok, yet my ‘knower’ was telling me otherwise. I felt trapped in an anxious, familiar bind: betray my own perceptions and dismiss my fear as unfounded, or accept my perceptions as truth and grow disconnected from the friendship.

That evening, my friend confirmed I had been reading her correctly when I insisted all was not well. She admitted that she’d been evading my probing concerns. I was honest about my failure to believe the best in her, to trust what I knew to be most true of her heart when my fear suggested trust was foolish. The words felt like they flowed easily from there. Our mutual vulnerability washed away gathered debris, and the foundation of our friendship grew clearer than it had been in some time.

As I talked about this experience with my counselor the following week, he highlighted a distinction between my sense of ‘knowing’ and the meaning attached. Growing up, I knew and observed things that the adults in my life worked hard to keep hidden. No one was willing to help me interpret that knowing, to answer my question “what does this mean?” Instead, I was told that I was imagining things, it wasn’t really that bad, I was just too sensitive.

Reclaiming and blessing my intuition has been a significant part of my recovery. And yet, this experience has brought a new awareness that intuition alone does not provide a full or clear picture. Meaning is necessary to complete the image.

What was so rare and powerful about my friend’s invitation that night was the opportunity to coauthor pieces of each other’s story. In any interaction, each of us brings a vast array of experiences and memories stored within our brains and bodies. This stored input from the past automatically and subconsciously influences the way we interpret our current world. Sometimes our intuition is spot-on. More often, it is nuanced, holding elements of truth as well as gross inaccuracies.

Exploring your own story is the first step in understanding the lens through which you read the world. Intuition is a powerful teacher but it doesn’t provide us with the whole truth.

The only way to get a complete picture is to invite others to join us in our interpretations.

Love is willing to risk the vulnerability of asking another “what does this mean?” rather than reading and writing the story all on our own.


Janet Stark is a woman learning to bless her depth and sensitivity. She is grateful for the deep love she shares with her husband, Chris and their kids and grandkids. Janet loves curling up with a good book, trying new recipes on her friends and family, and enjoying long conversations with friends over a cup of really good coffee. She is a life-long lover of words and writes about her experiences here.