We Are All Stories

Five Stories (short story collection)

Five Stories (short story collection) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I have just finished another summer canvassing for a well-known environmental advocacy  group (who shall remain nameless because they quite understandably want to approve of any blog posts their canvassers post about them, but I don’t have time for that, and besides, the act of canvassing and the organization itself are really just details in this little tale, but I am leading with that anyway because this is not news-writing 101.) When you canvass you meet all sorts of people. You meet them in the office. You meet them at lunch. You meet them at conferences and retreats. Mostly though, you meet them at their doorstep. Our interactions are so quick, and not just in this line of work, that it is easy to make snap judgments about people.

Tonight I was reminded how wrong it is to make assumptions based on those tiny transactions we make in our daily lives.  Much earlier in the summer I knocked on a woman’s door. At the time she was surly and brusque and to be frank made me feel a bit like a grubby beggar. She had left the option of coming back at a later date open, which I took, but I did not have the highest  hopes that it would turn out well. Boy was I ever wrong. Tonight when she answered her door she was all smiles and happy to see me. She thanked me for doing what I do, and reminded me how important it is. It made an already good night better, and helped me forget the pain in my ankles a little. I wondered for only a moment what happened to cause this change.

Then I remembered: we are all so much more than what we show even to those with whom we are closest , never mind what we show complete strangers. Maybe she just had a bad day before. Maybe she had a particularly good day today. Maybe she just wasn’t in the mood to deal with a canvasser the day I knocked on her door. Who knows? Ultimately it doesn’t matter, because what does matter is she is more than my initial reaction to her. That is true of everyone and it works both, or maybe all, ways. The kid behind the counter at Burger Joint who is taking forever to get your order sorted, maybe his boyfriend just broke up with him. The nice , middle-aged lady, who just let you cut in line there? For all you know she emotionally abuses her daughters at home. Even if you do know those things, you probably don’t know the reasons why.

We are all of us stories, even from a young age, and not just short stories. We are novels, with dozens of chapters. Many of us are entire anthologies. We cannot be summed up by looking at the back of the book for a synopsis, we have to be read, in our entirety, to really get us. Which is, of course, impossible. There are too many of us, and our stories are too long to really, truly get where the other is coming from. What we can do though, is understand that fact. The next time someone cuts you have in traffic, even as you are cussing them out, ask yourself: what is going on in their life that they would do that? I am not saying it is always easy, and that you won’t stumble in your attempts. After all, you are a story too, but that is the point. If we leave ourselves open to the fact (and it is a fact) that there are thousands of  reasons every person is the way they are, then we leave ourselves open to the possibility of knowing them, and ourselves, better. Armed with that knowledge, we can do nothing but improve our relationships, all of them, and live a happier, or at least less stressful, life.

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