“The Holidays” seem to be the time of story telling. Old family stories, one’s adventures growing up, or work tales, all find their way to the dining room over a big meal, or at some other festive event.
We watch our favorite holiday movies, enjoying the retelling of familiar, heart warming tales. We laugh, we cry, and we find love.
These last few weeks, I’ve heard other stories, stories that we won’t find on the Hallmark channel, or something to share with friends at a party.
These stories are honest, deep, often horrific. Yet, they need to be told, so that we can keep our feet on the ground, and truly know our friends, neighbors, the people we walk with on our life’s journey. In that storytelling, we find our power and we change the world.
A good friend recently responded to a Facebook discussion on white privilege, and shared his childhood and young adult stories. His memories were horrific, chilling, and disturbing in the sense that a family could inflict that degree of pain on an innocent child. He’s one of the good guys, doing amazing service in the community. Seeing him loving others, you would not suspect the pain he’s endured. Yet, he is today because of what he endured.
Several of my buddies I visit at the nearby youth correctional facility shared some of their stories with me, too. They opened up to me, pouring out their pain, their anger, their loneliness, and, their continuing capacity to be loving and kind.
One young man told me of his younger brother’s sudden death last week, how he learned of it five days later, how it feels to not be able to go to his brother’s funeral and mourn with his family.
Another young man told me of being abused and neglected, and then when he told others, they did not listen to him. In listening, I gave him a place for his voice, a way out of his dark tunnel, maybe even lit a candle for him.
Yet another young man ate his first Twinkie as we played cards and talked. He’s seventeen and was locked in the basement for years. I nodded, I smiled. I dealt the cards as he thoughtfully described every aspect of eating the treat, in sweet, delicious detail.
He also talked about learning to write, and hold a pencil. For the first sixteen years of his life, he did not write; he never held a pencil or a crayon. Today, he struggles with his writing, as his fingers slowly are developing the fine motor skills of pencil holding.
I look at my own hands, and wonder, unable to imagine what his life has been like, and what it feels like to hold a pencil for the first time at sixteen, and eat your first Twinkie at seventeen. In between my tears, I listen.
I listen. It is the most important job I have, the listening. Listening with compassion, with all my heart. Not judging, not condemning, not demeaning or minimizing; just listening and opening my heart to their heart. Heart to heart, truly listening and caring. Don’t we need more of that in this world? Wouldn’t lives be empowered, enriched simply because someone listened and cared?
Stories. They are all around us. They are inside of us, each one of us. In the hustle and bustle of the holidays, perhaps we need to just sit and listen to the storytellers.
And be filled with gratitude that we are able to take the time to listen and care. My holiday errands can wait. It is time to listen.
— Neal Lemery 11/25/2016