“The reason for evil in the world is that people are not able to tell their stories.” – C.G. Jung
“Stories make us more alive, more human, more courageous, more loving.”
– Madeleine L’Engle
Monday’s dreary chill was an appropriate backdrop to process the horrific events in Las Vegas. The clouds hung low, allowing for the pain and sadness, the questions and pressing hopelessness to run their course. I walked slow with the dog, taking moments to slump over for tears, stopping to look up at the changing foliage to witness the ebb and flow of seasons, the ebb and flow of grief. Such lessons in timelessness are helpful in these vast events of nonsensical human suffering.
Our park is busy, but not on days such as this. I took my chances, let Clem off-leash. She darted and bounded, an appropriate response after a long, slow weekend. After the park loop, I reattached her leash for a neighborhood loop. A familiar friend approached on the path, my neighbor Tony. He was alone, which is unusual, for he and his wife chat up the ‘hood pointing out where our cats were last seen while sharing collected tidbits from recent strolls. His glasses were fogged and his raincoat drippy, with a spring in his step accompanied by a thick and jovial, everlasting New York accent.
We stopped in the street, as neighbors do. He asked how I was after I inquired of his wife and her pained knee. His gentleness caused my face to fold in. After choking on my answer, his ready compassion encompassed me in a fierce embrace, partnered with a bonus kiss on the cheek and generous, kind words of hope. We walked the circuit and I hugged him again, so very grateful for a kind ear and a ready, welcome soul.
The divisions are running long and thick through our communities. But our stories bind us, our compassionate responses will heal these growing rifts. Our stories send us into the tension, an uncomfortable tension that if we allow, will refine and renew. The tension will make us better as we dwell within the questions and seek the best answers. But we don’t like the unknown. We fear the uncertain. We eschew the uncomfortable. And so to deal with the frustration of not having ready answers we succumb to stereotype, bias. We choose issues over people. We choose progress over persons.
Later that evening, Eric and I attended a debate of our city’s mayoral candidates. My socks were not knocked off with excitement, but I know the importance of involvement in local politics. I know my sense of powerlessness comes from waiting on Washington, rather than participating in the soil of my own community, seeking change from the ground up. I listened, open-minded, seeking information about the concerns that press an expanding town. The issues were discussed, issues of homelessness and development, affordable housing and water. The nuts and bolts of a community hashed and rehashed with obvious care and concern.
But, when we paint with the broad brush and reduce our communities to a series of issues, rather than a collection of humans, we lose the color, the spark, the intricacies, the detail. We forget that the people are truly what make our towns and cities and neighborhoods great. When we align ourselves with issues, we lose the spectrum of humanity. We ascribe to binary thinking: good vs bad, right vs wrong, holy vs evil. Yet, when we learn the people, their stories, their situations, their strengths, and their shortcomings we no longer can paint with wide, sweeping motions. No, we have to fine tune, zero in, color in with specific detail.
And absolutely none of this is comfortable. None of this helps us lay our heads on our pillows with glee at the end of a long day. When we consider people over issues, we know the name of the guy on the street corner who doesn’t get a warm, cozy bed. We know the name of the family who just lost their healthcare. We know the name of the young man whose father is being deported next month. We know the name of the transgender teen. We know the name of the daughter gunned down in Las Vegas.
People are messy. But you cannot convince me that I should be anywhere else.
If Tony had written me off Monday, in my grief, as some white lady with too much time on her hands, I would’ve been dehumanized, made less than. I needed him. I needed him to see me, to hug me, to hear me. It didn’t require much, just a stroll around a block and a kind word. We must resist the temptation to categorize, to sort people into groups. I know it’s so easy, cleans things up, gives us space to be. I fight it and fail every single day, but I recognize my tendency and therefore hope for personal reform.
People are people to be seen, to be heard, to be honored in their unique, messy, remarkable stories, stories that involve mothers and fathers, children and siblings. Stories with sordid detail and odd facts. Each person has a story to be revered.
May we listen well, help where we can, and love through our attention to detail, filling in the beautiful, precious landscape of a life.