I was nearly an abortion. I was an unplanned accident, born out of wedlock, and the one before me was aborted.
I was born to immigrant parents, who naturalized and met in New York. They started with nothing, working as many as 100 hours per week, slowly and painfully saving money until they could open their own businesses. They believed this was a great country, and still do. My father served alongside the U.S. in the Vietnam War, and he is a proud veteran of this nation.
Many of us have these sorts of stories; they inform who we are, what we believe, and what we fight for, and so we are a myriad of uniquely shaped stories, each giving rise to a different voice in the world.
The really tragic thing is when we superimpose a particular idea on someone without attempting to hear their story first, and their voice is then stamped and smothered. We can too quickly assume a person is only their picket sign, their political party, their social media feed, or a cartoonish, dogmatic, one-dimensional archetype sensationalized by a grab-bag of Hollywood images. We predict what they might or might not believe without asking, without listening, without understanding.
A person’s voice is always built from their stories, their experiences, their very real pains, and it’s this blend of blisters that has brought them to stand on their particular hill. It is a hill, whether rightly or wrongly, that has been reached by a stream of forces that no two individuals can fully comprehend in each other.
So we can only try. Patiently, graciously: to hear their story on the hill.
I have several military friends in counter-terrorism who have seen the very worst sorts of evil. As intel is gathered, from one criminal atrocity after another, the evidence is undeniable: you can imagine my friends’ nightmares, the stomach-churning scenes they have witnessed over and over. My father has been tortured; he has seen entire villages burned to the ground. I imagine he has a very different view of justice and law than the leisurely suburbanite. I am certainly disturbed and disgusted by “terror-phobia” and I am not so cynical to think that evil lurks in every shadow. Yet I’m aware that such evils do happen. I cannot agree with the current methods used to fight them (methods which appear misguided and disproportionate), but with utter reluctance, I think I know where it’s coming from.
Every “issue” continually raises new angles, new questions. I have had extended family members who permanently moved in, who were running from ills in their former country, and while it is a noble thing to care for them, it’s also exhausting and draining. I have seen so many romanticize an issue without considering its implications in the long run, because issues involve people and people are not predictably packaged. It is right to be compassionate and kind and generous, and yet, it is just as right to be wise and protective and gracious to yourself. This is a dialogue that must happen with practical, intelligible exchange, and not hot-headed slogans that only scratch the shallow surface. All this requires smarter solutions than the fear-drenched overreactions of escalating, misinformed spectators.
Mostly everything is complex and complicated, with layers yet to discover, and multiple ways to help and to heal. It does not require that we believe the same things, but that I believe you, and you believe me, and we can join in the same place.
There is a way to help, not merely driven by one-liners, but by a marathon momentum at the ground level. I don’t know what that looks like all the time, but it does demand more than verbal outrage and tribalistic assent. It demands more than changing your profile picture or sending up prayers or another thought-piece (like this one). Real passion, after all, continues to strive long after the initial emotions have ceased.
The more stories I hear, the less I believe that people are simply axiomatic poles that must bend to one absolute or the other. I’ve quit trying to guess. We do not fit in simplistic boxes, and there may be multiple points of tension depending on the twists and turns of our journeys. Our positions were informed by a tangible reality. We have each seen a piece of something that brought us to a belief, to which we have the right to stand for. And whether I agree or disagree, I remain a student of stories, to hear the grief and anger and agony.
I want to be slow enough to listen, and loud enough to tell my story, too. We each have a right to them, and to hear and to be heard. And sometimes, there is only silence, only presence, without a solution right now, because not everything can be fixed, and I can only be with.
Photo from Image Catalog, CC BY PDM
4 thoughts on “Tell Me Your Story.”
Beautiful Pastor JS.
My take-away line – “And whether I agree or disagree, I remain a student of stories, to hear the grief and anger and agony.”
So often, I am finding people who are so quick to spout out their ideas and opinions without listening – as if their opinion is the ONLY opinion worth having. I have been surprised by the anger and the disgust regularly displayed on my facebook newsfeed.
I myself have refrained from posting any “political” and potentially controversial statuses all while posting pictures of flowers, nature, grandkids, and Pope Francis’ quotes (I guess these could be controversial) – but trying to be positive.
But I realize that I haven’t been really “listening”. It’s hard when everything and everyone seems so negative. It’s hard because there are no acceptable answers for everyone. I don’t have a one-liner that would be able to appease everyone. As a Christian, I know that “Jesus is the answer” but what does that mean in practical terms? Like you have said, everyone has a different story.
But like you have stated, I can listen but I can also tell my own story and many times, it just involves being present first and even silent. But at least, I can love without talking – To quote Mother Teresa – “Let us always meet each other with smile, for the smile is the beginning of love.”