At this years’ Oscar’s the remarkable Viola Davis spoke to my favorite subject. She talked about story. About all the stories that reside in graveyards around this world. About how the work of the artist is to give life to stories, their own and those of others. Her words touched my heart.
At the same ceremony the host, Jimmy Kimmel, spoke of the necessity, in these deeply divided times, to have meaningful, kind conversations with those with whom we disagree. I could not agree more. And what are conversations but a sharing of stories?
I believe that story is where we all live, we just forget that in the press of day-to-day life. We forget that story is how we learn, about the world, each other, and ourselves. We forget that listening to the stories of others is how we build bridges between them and us, because in those shared stories also lies our shared humanity.
Life, at times, is brutally hard.
I don’t know a single adult who hasn’t experienced gut wrenching pain at some point; and yet we often feel so alone. The loss of someone we loved, a dear pet, a job we desperately wanted, or realizing that who we thought we were may not be the whole story. All of us have gone through times that left us wondering why life is so hard. Wondering why we don’t seem able to figure it out the way others seem to.
But here’s the true story. We are alone and we aren’t. Our particular pain is unique to us, but pain is a shared experience. Comparing our suffering to that of others doesn’t work. Yes, we may, or may not, objectively be more, or less, fortunate than someone else but our pain is still real. When we compare, when we judge how we feel as more or less valuable than someone else’s feelings we are missing the point that we all suffer. It’s the sharing of the suffering and the joys that binds us together.
When we open ourselves to sharing and receiving story we are reaching across the boundaries of “your experience” v. “my experience” to the human experience.
Do you remember reading a book as a child and putting yourself into the story? You were Tom Sawyer or Jo March. You were The Little Engine That Could or the Cowardly Lion. Those stories were ways for us to learn to find ourselves in the world. We related to different characters at different times depending on where we were in our life at that point. Those stories of rebellion, adventure, love, persistence, and courage were our signposts. Signposts for you, me, and even the obnoxious kid down the street.
As Viola Davis pointed out, there are so many stories. Yet there are also so few. Love, loss, dreams, disappointment, these are stories we all share. The details are ours alone but the themes aren’t. The themes belong to us all. The themes are the way in. The way in to the hearts of others. The way in to our own heart.
When we share a story we don’t have to worry about the theme. We only need to tell our truth with as much courage as we can. We only need to be willing to be seen as who we truly are in this world that often asks us to move through life with only our social face.
We can live shallow or we can live deep. Truly sharing our stories is deep living. It is scary and hard and joyful and liberating. Sharing our stories means opening our hearts and minds to the truth that we are all unique and that none of us is unique. Sharing our stories means that seeing someone as the enemy becomes far more difficult. After all, we have shared experiences maybe we can find some common ground.
And sharing our stories means that at the end of our time on this earth we will not have gone without leaving a trace.