“A believing community is always a narrating community.”
—Gustavo Gutiérrez, “The Narrator Narrated,” included in Essential Writings (1996).
Remember that the newsletter is where we tell the stories that weave us together.
—organizing principle for Shepherd of the Hills Presbyterian‘s communications, 2005-2013
Dismantling our enemies requires at least three steps: proximity, curiosity, and humility.
—Michael T. McRay, “Meet a True Story,” Plough Quarterly, Winter 2018
I’m perpetually drawn into the realization that we humans live inside stories… the stories we tell ourselves about ourselves, the stories we make as we move through our days, the stories we tell people we don’t know so that we can pass the time, the stories we tell our dear ones about our other dear ones, the stories we tell we-hope-will-be-dear ones as we peel ourselves like onions. (Because those are often the stories that make us cry!)
We don’t become close—intimate—if we’re not sharing stories. Even the boring stories of each day count. There have been times in my marriage where I began to feel cut off and isolated, and when My Sweetie and I tugged on the difficulty we’d find that we hadn’t been sharing the texture of our days. (“But I don’t do anything! Except go to meetings-!” “Yeah, but somehow it still matters-?”)
One of the earliest turning points I remember was when I and My Sweetie (who then was more friend than Sweetie) had gone out to hear a band and maybe dance… it was a joint on Lake Austin (very much a joint, no gloss!), and Rotel and the Hot Tomatoes… but after one margarita and a handful of songs we wandered outside to the boat-slip, sat down, and started talking. Until 4am.
(Have you met me? The modern Cinderella, full pumpkin by midnight at the latest? About the only thing that would keep me awake at that hour is sharing stories.)
McRay’s article is, I think, also about the intimacy stories bring, even though the focus is on healing in difficult places. I was particularly excited to hear about the nonprofit Narrative 4, “that runs empathy-building programs all over the world. The core methodology is a story exchange, where paired participants tell their partner a true story from their life. Their partner listens deeply to the story. Then, when the participants regroup, each person tells their partner’s story in first-person pronouns, as if that story happened to them.”
I wonder how that would work, internally. I’ve learned how closeness and emotional safety can’t be rushed—simply speaking your darkest moments doesn’t result in prompt intimacy. It’s not like running a machine or a computer program. Simply speaking one of your stories to a stranger doesn’t make that person (much) less of a stranger.
But taking on that stranger’s story, and telling it as if it were your own? How would that skin fit? And what would it be like, afterward, having worn that story for a while… . Would it end up in your dresser drawer of stories, folded in with the ones you lived?
Would you be different? Or even less the same?
I continue to worry that our modern social bubbles—certainly my social bubble, and why would I be unusual?—confine us. That we only hear stories that sound like our own stories, or the same stories we’ve heard many times. That without proximity to radically different stories, we have no way to exercise curiosity effectively, much less humility.
That we are constricted, unable to demonstrate that we would be curious, and we would be humble.
We each remain stuck as them.
Those people, over there, who make no sense.