. . . . . . .Our first assignment was an introduction speech. It was interesting, the things people chose to share about themselves. Most of us chose to talk about our hobbies, interests and families. But other people chose to tell their hard stories. The stories that hurt. The stories that change them and shape them. The stories that affect their lives every day.
One woman talked about giving. She said that most of us are born with a self-preservation instinct that prevents us from giving help to others when it would harm or damage ourselves. She said she was born without that instinct . . . but it seems to me that she gives in spite of her self-preservation instinct.That's what is hard for her. Her lifestyle of giving anyway.
Another woman talked about being a single, teenaged mom. A man talked about growing up on the east side of St. Louis and mentioned, almost as an afterthought, that somebody was shot in his neighborhood nearly every day. The man who sits nearby him told a similar story about growing up in Chicago. Someone else talked about being a troubled teen and said that he was sent to "therapy boarding school" for two years. The oldest man in the class talked about going to jail as a young man. He said the bad decisions he made when he was young have followed him and haunted him for the rest of his life.
The Marine talked about having post-traumatic stress disorder. He said that when he walks through the hallways he feels like the people who walk behind him are chasing him. He said he always sits in the back of the classroom where he can see every person and every exit. When he told us that he was getting help, he broke down and cried, and I don't think any of us expected it. He's a tough guy who sits in the back of the room and makes jokes. I don't think we guessed he had a story that can make him sob.
. . . . . . . .Thinking about all these hard stories, I wonder about the ones that weren't told. The more people I meet the more I realize that everyone has one. A hard story. I have a story I didn't tell. A long and complicated story about betrayal and rejection and punishment for doing the right thing. But I haven't found the adequate words to tell it yet. And maybe nobody else had adequate words for their story either.
There's a quote. I don't know who said it. "Every person you meet, every single one, is looking for their story. There are no exceptions. You become part of it by how you treat them." I think that's true. But I also think that everyone you meet already has a story. And that idea, that everyone has a story and is looking for a story, should make us more compassionate. It should make us want to listen, and it should make us feel privileged when someone shares their story with us.