the stories around us

For some reason every time I find myself in a very large crowd, I'm amazed how so many thousands of people end up in one place at the very same time. I mean, it's remarkable how all these people's lives, all with different stories, align together, to say, watch the fireworks in English Bay, or cheer Team Canada in downtown Vancouver during the Olympics, or sing along to U2 in BC Place stadium. Yet in these gatherings, I'm struck most with how little I know about the people around me. We may all gather for a big event, but I feel anonymous. My life - my story - gets lost in the crowd.

But I don't think this feeling is limited to large scale events. Typically, the feeling of isolation is an everyday reality in our North American culture. We know little about the person on the bus we see everyday, or the family at the park who's kids play with ours, or the coworker we see everyday in the lunch room, but have never talked to. Everyday life is like being in a sold-out stadium of strangers, surrounded by stories we don't know.

I have a friend who spends considerable time working in Gambia. As I read some of his reflections this week, I was struck by how his life in Africa is filled with encountering other people's stories. He recently wrote,

There are not a lot of simple answers when you live in and amongst poverty, particularly when it has been presence for a sustained period of time. Each day my door lines with stories big and small. School, food, health care and shelter are all worthy causes and essential to holding the poverty cycle. Of course it is easy to ignore when you aren’t there but when the reality of the situation has a name and face and is standing at your door it is hard to hide.

At first, I was tempted to accept that he's simply describing life in Africa - it's a different culture that allows for people to connect with one another. Here in North America our stories aren't as visible. But in discussing this another friend challenged that the visibility of our lives isn't the problem. Our inability to stop and pay attention to the stories around us is the issue. The stories are there. We just don't see them.

So as I go through the busyness of everyday North American suburban life, I'm challenged to pay attention to the stories around me, recognizing how "each day my door lines with stories big and small."

I've always liked the story of Zacchaeus, which in the context of this post prompts more reflection than just a chuckle over a short-man's attempts to see Jesus. You see, Jesus engaged the people - the stories - around him:

1 Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. 2 A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. 34 So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd.

5 When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, "Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today." 6 So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.

7 All the people saw this and began to mutter, "He has gone to be the guest of a sinner."

8 But Zacchaeus stood up and said to the Lord, "Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount."

9 Jesus said to him, "Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. 10 For the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost." Luke 19:1-10 (TNIV)


Marjorie said...

thought provoking, David. I think of the choice I make to 'be aware and in the moment' and when I do that, I often connect with people in my world. At times the challenge for me is to listen without feeling responsible to fix anything. When I can remember that, I am more energetic and I think people feel comfortable to be themselves in that moment. Thanks for sharing!

David Warkentin said...

Mom, thanks for joining the fray! I think you're right about the need to just listen, instead of seeing people as "projects."

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