Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – September 19, 2004
Everyone Has A Story
Short Stories From 10 Years Ago – September 19, 2004 – I was listening to the radio in my car the other day when a country and western song came over the air waves. I think it may have been Vince Gill, singing about trouble with his woman, driving his tractor instead of his car and spending time with the boys. One of the verses ended with the line “That’s my story and I’m stickin’ to it”.
I started to think about how true that sentiment is and how each and every one of us has a story. Considering that there are about 6.2 billion people in the world – this is an almost unimaginable fact. People’s lives are like snowflakes – there are no two that are ever identical. It would be an impossible feat to tell, even a fraction of the life histories of the people in my city, let alone my country. What about the world?
People tend to focus on their own lives and those of their immediate families and friends. We have a vested interest in their happiness, their struggles, their triumphs, gains and losses. Even then, it’s difficult to keep up with all the various comings and goings in their lives. At the same time, each of us is trying to manage our own life to the best of our ability.
Is it any wonder that many of us feel overwhelmed, sad, distanced from one another and helpless in the face of the chaos in the world. How do we even start to address children starving in Africa, women in bondage in third world countries, animals suffering at the hands of cruel owners, the destruction of the Amazon rainforests, the pollution of the world’s waterways, whales and dolphins in distress, wildlife in danger of extinction and the very health of our planet?
I can’t even begin to answer these questions. But perhaps we start by listening to others instead of always talking, doing our part every day by being kind and thoughtful, refraining from judging others, speaking out and making our opinion count when we can, being the voice of reason if we encounter prejudice, sharing our good fortune as we’re able to, passing on our life experience to another in need, putting someone else first, letting go of a grudge, forgiving another, taking responsibility for our own lives, refusing to assign blame for our circumstances and recognizing everything we have to be thankful for in our lives.
There have been many times in my life when I’ve been angry at another person, disappointed with his or her behaviour, engaged in finger pointing, smug, self-serving, self-satisfied and sure of the “rightness” of my position. If I feel this way, it’s not surprising that others do as well? That’s self-interest at work and I think learning that “me first” isn’t always the answer is one of the hardest life lessons to master.
I know that during the painful, troubled times in my life, I’ve been self-absorbed to the exclusion of all else. I remember one occasion when I was having lunch with a woman I worked with. I didn’t socialize with her but we were friendly professionally and had shared some personal stories with one another from time to time. I was on a beastly rant about something or other, and spent our entire time together fuming about how I’d been wronged. I couldn’t spew out my indignation fast enough. For every suggestion she offered that might ameliorate my situation – I shot her down in flames and it felt good.
How could she possibly understand my anguish? I don’t recall that I ever asked her how she was doing. She was a single, working mother, had financial concerns of her own and a young son who had some health challenges. None of that entered my mind. She listened to my story, through what must have been, for her, a very long hour and a half. She continued to try and offer me the benefit of her life experience in similar circumstances. We parted company and I felt marginally better after my harangue.
I was speaking with a mutual friend a week or so later and she asked me how Sue had been doing. “Fine” I replied, although I really had no idea, because I’d never asked. My friend said, “I was just wondering if her surgery has been scheduled yet?” Sue had been diagnosed with breast cancer the week before our lunch. I’m not sure that I had ever been more ashamed of myself. I’d certainly had my story that day, but Sue’s had been much more important. It’s too bad that I didn’t recognize her right or her need to tell it.
When we encounter another person and are angered or offended by their behaviour, we should remember that we have no idea what is going on in their lives. Before we jump to judgement about them, perhaps we should take a deep breath, count to ten and remember that every person – everywhere – has a story. That story is constantly changing and maybe – just maybe on that day – they too need to be heard.