I think of people as walking stories. Inside each person are chapters of a narrative that is still being written. Pages portraying past experiences, challenges, and meaningful events. Memoirs that make them unique.
I believe in the power of telling our stories. The storyteller gains perspective, often affirmation, sometimes even healing. The listener comes to honor, respect and appreciate the narrator more extensively. Our lives are not meant to be monologues, spoken on a bare stage. I believe that we need each other to listen intently.
Ironically, it seems that after a person’s life story ends in death, their history is given the most attention. When I recently experienced two friends’ deaths within four days, I was reminded that loved ones’ biographies are told and retold as we bid a final farewell. We need to let go of wanting more chapters to be written in the lives of those precious to us. We are saddened by the loss of their roles in our own future episodes.
My workdays as a school counselor were filled with stories of difficulties, abuse and depression. I remember the girl who spoke of her cold home with the gaping floor boards exposing the ground beneath and the bare cupboards in the kitchen. The boy whose father committed suicide to avoid the deterioration of Parkinson’s disease. The spirited teen whose cystic fibrosis caused many missed days of school but whose cheerfulness was an inspiration. I couldn’t change the scripts that were handed to students. But I had to believe that by having a compassionate listener they were made stronger and more resilient.
Some people need to tell their story to make sense of their early lives, like a woman whose parents died when she was a child and she was not told what she needed to know, leaving her to grow up with many questions unanswered.
Some need to tell their story to process frightening events. A woman who at the age of 8 in l953, terrified, ran with her mother and brother through the open space at the border of East and West Germany, making their escape. An Italian man telling of hiding in limestone caves along coastal Italy in l944 while German soldiers looked for teenage boys to conscript into military service .
Some stories carry heavy burdens that remain far into adulthood, like a man I know who is still haunted by the knowledge of his father’s SS career in Nazi Germany. He relates his story to anyone who will spend a few minutes with him.
I admire a friend, a Hospice social worker, who listens to the concluding passages of those near death. But listening to another’s narrative is something we all can do.
Stories are meant to be told. Those stories walk all around us.
Stories are meant to be heard. I know that by listening I have found my life greatly enriched.
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