“Stories work with people, for people, and always stories work on people, affecting what people are able to see as real, as possible, and as worth doing or best avoided.”
~ Arthur W. Frank, Letting Stories Breathe: A Socio-Narratology, p. 3
I haven’t written in a while. Part of the reason has to do with the fact that there is so much happening in the outside world and the other part has to do with the fact that there is so much happening inside my personal world.
To be completely honest, I am having a difficult time processing it all.
Amidst the tumultuous effects of COVID-19 and the protests related to the killing of George Floyd, I have had to say goodbye to my grandpa. While his death was not pandemic related, it has still been incredibly difficult. He was one of my best friends and taught me so much about life. One of the most important lessons he ever taught me was about people and stories.
“Every person has a story,” he used to say to me. “Every person is unique.”
My grandpa knew firsthand the rewards of taking the time to listen to people’s stories. He didn’t let negative first impressions dissuade him from getting to know others, even though, at times, it might have been tempting to overlook or judge them. Deep down, he realized that there were reasons why people acted the way that they did. He understood that life has it’s challenges, and sometimes, the narratives we imagine ourselves fulfilling are not the ones we actually live out.
In short, he knew that life could be hard. His appreciation for other people’s stories stemmed from a genuine place of empathy, respect, and compassion. He chose to let their stories work on his heart, increasing his capacity to love and show kindness. He wasn’t perfect. There were times when he wasn’t as quick to respond from this place of understanding. But he tried and he learned from his mistakes. He wanted his story to be one of grace.
Right now, there are a lot of stories circulating that, as scholar Arthur Frank might say, are working for, with, against, and on people. They are presenting conflicting visions of the future, and, at times, the reports can be more confusing than clarifying. People are often being grouped together, referred to in terms of “us” and “them.” As emotions rise, it is more and more tempting to generalize and simplify situations. It is tempting to judge others and shut our minds to the complex reasons for their actions.
It is tempting, in other words, to forget the fact that we are all human. To forget the fact that, underneath all of the anger, frustration, and hurt, beats the hearts of people who are just trying to survive. There are so many things we don’t know about each other. But, when we take the time to set aside assumptions and listen, we realize that we might have more in common than popular narratives suggest.
We are all living through some very hard times. It is my hope that a story of reconciliation, restoration, and redemption is one that we as a society can see as real, possible, and worth living. It is my prayer that we can work towards it together, showing empathy, respect, and compassion for each other in the process.
Frank, A. W. (2010). Letting stories breathe: A socio-narratology. Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press