For many years, part of my work has been listening to people’s stories. As I listen and respond, I have grown. Over time, my training has expanded so that I’ve heard more and different kinds of stories, and the way I hear them has changed.
Some years ago, a boy had a glorious week of safety and loving predictability in a volunteer foster home, but then his aunt took him out for a burger and never came back.
It was legal for her to do so, but I felt the small building blocks of hope crumble inside of him. He was eight; he’d had a chance. But instead, his guardian took him back to her home, a place just marginal enough to keep protective eyes out, just steel guarded enough to keep them both from getting the things that might have helped.
Now set the new trajectory—we’d see him in detention in a few years. We’d see him enraged and unreached, and I couldn’t stop it. I put my head on my desk and I all-the-way cried that day. I could only send after him a blessing that I could feel he could not accept. He didn’t want blessings—he wanted a secure, sane year or two to shore him up and set things right.
It’s always been easy for me to find a sense of ‘we’ with other people. When one of my best friends went to law school years ago, we spent so much time working through the struggles together, that even though I would never go to law school, we talk about ‘when we went to law school.’ I get happy when other people succeed, even when I have nothing to do with supporting it. I feel kind of part of it all, even just as a witness, from a distance.
I’ve noticed this year that when I am witness to a story, or helping someone weaving their pieces into a story, that I have a much more profound sense of ‘we.’
I’d never say it in words out loud, but I feel something like this, “Oh, yes, when we lost our kids to DCF, when we killed that man, when we broke into that house, when we drove our sister drunk and smashed into the tractor trailer—we lived and she didn’t…”
I want to convey this right—I am not disturbed by this experience, and I don’t imagine that I actually had those experiences- -I just don’t feel separate from them at all. I feel as though I am becoming part of the array of everything people do, good and bad, and I am part of finding our way back from them.
Because no matter how much we imagine we are alone and singular, we come back to ourselves together, as a ‘we.’