Thursday, November 28, 2013

Give the Gift You'd Like Most of All

Opening up the local paper online this morning, on route to the days obituaries (I’m not morbid, it’s actually part of my job) I was surprised to see a familiar face. Dave Lewis, a former teacher of Rebecca’s. His story was main stage, the headline: ‘Kitchener Man Remembers a Plane Crash Tragedy, 50 Years Ago Near Montreal’, a picture accompanied of Dave sitting solemnly in his living room holding a book ‘Voices from a Forgotten Tragedy’

I read through the account of Dave’s Story (capital S because it is his great significant tale) and was saddened to learn that at the age of 11 he lost his father in one of the largest aviation disasters in Canadian History. The article outlines the tragedy, shares some history and details plans for a commemorative memorial being held this week in Quebec. (I invite and encourage you to read it here) Dave’s Story touched my heart and drew me in, partially I am sure because he is someone I have known but more so for that very same reason. He is someone I have known.

Does that make the story more compelling and relatable? To be frank I do not know Dave well beyond the part-time hours he taught my daughter, so I would not expect to know his Story; but that he had a Story never consciously crossed my mind. That is more to the point.

We forget that every single person we know has a Story. While we are busy talking about progress in reading and comprehension we forget that the person on the other side of the conversation has a private journey of highlights and struggles, successes, failures, great joys and heartbreaking tragedy.

Some Stories we know; the Stories of our friends (those they choose to share) that connect us to them beyond casual acquaintances. Our families have Stories; ones we are a part of, ones we’ve bared witness to and ones we support one another through. Our children have Stories, some are big and loud and exciting like learning to blow bubbles and scoring winning goals. Some of their Stories are quiet and hidden like first kisses and liquor cabinet raids. Our partners have Stories from their lives before we meet them that weave themselves into our fabric and become part of our own Story.

The one defining thing about all these stories is that they equalize us, don’t they? Our Stories are like flowers; each species has its own virtue, each is complete and beautiful in its own entirety, in this way they are the same. However, no one can say that one single flower is more beautiful or has the most pleasing fragrance. That is unique to each heart that looks upon the flower. 

No two journeys are the same; my tragedy does not outweigh your tragedy and make my Story more valuable. Your Joys do not out shine my joys and diminish their value. They simply can’t, we have not lived on one another’s Story to know and measure. In our Stories we are equal, in that each one of us has a very private personal one, equal because they touch all of the same emotions. The way a person feels sorrow or joy, the degree to which it makes them ache or radiate is as individual as our fingerprints and DNA, there is where the difference lies. How we feel our Stories makes us believe that we live a more difficult path or a more joyful one than our acquaintances. If our journey is one of great sorrow and pain, it is easy to feel we deserve greater portions of sympathy. If our Story is filled with great moments of boundless success and joy we may perceive that we have lived a greater life. How we feel our own Story pits and ranks it against the Stories we don’t really have the capacity to comprehend. 

In our experience, in our view, our own Story is most beautiful, most fragrant.

Our own Stories captivate us. Sometimes so much so that they keep us stuck, reliving a passage or a chapter over and over. We become so enthralled with living our Stories and creating our Stories that we forget that others have Stories too and we don’t value them the way we should as unique and beautiful flowers.

Sharing our Stories is a healing tool but it makes us bad listeners. Whether you vocalize it or not, at the very moment someone begins to tell you their Story your brain calculates “Ya, but do you know what happened to me?”  Put 6 mothers in a room and start a labour and delivery room conversation and you will see exactly what I mean. It’s so predictable it’s downright comical! Take those same 6 mothers aside separately and ask them to re-tell a labour story they just heard and I bet you they can’t. We don’t listen to understand, we listen to inform. We listen for breaks in conversation to share more of our own Story. Rude to the ultimate degree but so natural that we don’t even recognize we do it.

The end result, none of us really ever feels like our Story has been heard. It makes us feel anxious and angry, frustrated and disappointed. It makes the hurt last longer; it makes the joys feel uncelebrated, makes sadness reverberate in our hearts long after the event has come and gone. Most of all, it leaves us searching all the time to be heard.

Reading Dave’s Story this morning made me think; “How many Stories am I missing?” And I realised, there is a beautiful gift each of us has the capacity to give.

You can change how much you suffer by finding someone to tell your story to and you can change how much someone suffers by listening to their story.

What a beautiful thing, especially as the holidays approach and people are overwhelmed with memories, joys, sadness, grief and longing, what a gift to be the listener. What a gift I have to give; to give someone’s story my undivided attention, to hear it all the way through from beginning to end. To listen without sharing, comparing or fixing. To, for the time of a tale, wrap attention around them like a blanket around their shoulders.  Be completely present, riveted in the moment of their story and not mentally online or at the mall or at my desk.  To just smile and nod and give them all the time they need. It’s a gift that, is going to take some effort.

I hope you find this a gift worth giving and I hope you find someone to give it to…. but mostly I hope someone gives this gift to you.