I once found someone’s life on a subway. Abandoned in their backpack was a life stopped short: a liquor bottle, courier ID, and a newspaper story about the drive-by murder of the man’s son who, rushing from the train, left bad memories and ways to drown them, behind.
I called his courier job learning that he had been fired that day. I called his home; his number was disconnected. Fearing the man was a suicide risk, I sought police help to locate him to no avail.
At that moment I became aware of something I should always have known. Everyone has a story. Locked in a suitcase. Hidden behind a smile. Welded under the stepping stones of a successful life.
This man’s story was front page news. Now it sat next to me on a train.
There was once a man, smelling indescribably of liquor who rose toothless from the gutter to announce to me on a long ago birthday, “Baby, I’ll work three jobs if you’ll deign to marry me.” “It’s a lovely offer,” I replied. Rising from a stupor to shine, just briefly, he proffered marriage, sparkling eyes and the King’s English as his gifts. There was a story there. Unlike the flattened visages of his nearby friends, his soul was not quite squashed.
It is trite to say, “Don’t judge a book by its cover.” We are more than covers. We are more, even than books themselves. We are words that spill out and over the spines, asking anyone who deigns to listen lest our souls be squashed.
There was once a singer on Britain’s Got Talent who walked onto the stage amidst jeers. Her unique hairstyle along should have heralded her presence on the stage as a storyteller. Whether or not heavenly song emerged from her lips and changed in that instant her life and ours, we should only have listened for her story rather than laughed out of personal discomfort.
What I know to be true is that:
* Everyone has a story worth hearing;
* All of our ears should be attuned for compassionate listening;
* In the space between those two lives – the storyteller’s and the hearer’s – lies the possibility that both might be healed.
Because I have lived it through a lost knapsack on a train, an unlikely marriage proposal and a heart-rending song, I know it to be true.
Because I, like everyone else, have a story more meaningful than can be seen on the surface of my skin, or in my clothes, in the way I walk or the car that I drive.
We are all our stories.
And we are more than our stories.
So we must listen carefully to the triumph that deigns to lie hidden inside our individual tales.
It is always there.
Not Once Upon a Time but today and forever.
Listening makes us rise to our stories.
And provides the possibility that we will grow into, through, and beyond them.
This I Believe.