the power of a story told well

Posted: April 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

I cried tonight so hard during supper that my tacos were salted with tears.  Blubbered and blew my nose and pulled myself together and then cried all over again.  No makeup is left on my face, and my head still hurts from the fierceness of those sobs. 

I was overcome by the power of story.

With the increased battery life I’ve gained since moving to my Iphone 5, I’ve been really into listening to podcasts.  I like to listen while I cook and clean and especially while I do dishes.  I was telling my son this, the last time he came through, and he clued me into one I hadn’t heard of – a show public radio show called “This American Life.” 

I’ve only listened to two programs there thus far – a two-part series, to be specific, about Harper High School on the south side of Chicago.  More specifically, here is a description of that series:

We spent five months at Harper High School in Chicago, where last year alone 29 current and recent students were shot. 29. We went to get a sense of what it means to live in the midst of all this gun violence, how teens and adults navigate a world of funerals and Homecoming dances. We found so many incredible and surprising stories…

I listened to the first part yesterday.  I was still in “audience” mode.  I appreciated the artistry of the presentation, the grit of the truth.  I got to know the “characters,” who were not characters at all, but real lives in real time in my very favorite city.  I found it thought-provoking, challenging, sad.  I still felt a very real delineation between that world and mine, though.  It was still mostly *entertainment* to me.

Tonight while I made supper and then sat down to eat it, I listened to part 2.  It was a return to people who were known to me now, from administrators to social workers to students.  It was up close, it was detailed, it was real.  Much of it reminded me of the stories from my time working in a high school – no, there weren’t 29 people being shot in a year there, but yes, the level of daily personal tragedy and hopelessness were often right up there with what I was hearing on this radio program.  It wasn’t a movie, or a fiction book, or a drama, or something dreamed up in someone’s head.  It was real lives, being daily ruined and stolen and worn down, robbed of hope.   

That came sneaking up on me, emotionally.  I didn’t know I was going to cry – I just sort of landed in the middle of a sob and went from there.  The weight of all that brokenness, all that pain, all that distance away from God in so many lives was pressing down on me.  I cried for the kids who have never known different, who can’t find a place of safety.  I cried for the parents who are watching their kids die and don’t know how to change it.  I cried for the teachers and social workers and administrators who fight daily to change it, in the face of a consistent message that shouts THIS WILL NEVER CHANGE.  I cried for all the people who can hear a story like this and not give a damn, because it’s not in their back yard. 

This is the power of story.  It is greater, I think, than the power of philosophy or politics or religion or reason or ideas or ideals or arguments.  A story well told can touch the heart.  It can make a life that will never touch mine matter to me.  It can pull me out of my comfortable, cushy, satisfied little life and remind me that what I can see and touch and understand, what I personally experience daily, is not the whole world. 

Last week at small group, we talked about those times when it seems wrong that the sun should still be shining.  Like as I watched the twin towers fall, and the sunshine was so perfect, cascading in through the windows.  Like as I read the newspaper accounts of the horror of post-Katrina New Orleans, and beautiful, ordinary days continued all around me.  I was struck by that feeling tonight – that in places like Harper High School, the level of darkness and mayhem and loss and hopelessness is such that many who walk its halls must wonder how the sun can still shine, how ordinary life can just go on, how the world does not stop to weep and scream for the horror that they are living. 

The power of story is an incredible tool in the face of that.  I believe it has a power to change hearts and circumstances in ways that nothing else can. 

There aren’t many things I enjoy more than telling a good story – or, more accurately, telling a story well.  I wonder where He might offer me opportunity to make a difference by doing just that.  Hmm. 

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