The Power of Story: Together We RISE

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It's history, you can't rewrite it. You're not meant to be trapped inside it.
Every tear brought you here, every sorrow gathered. It’s history, and every mile mattered.

Nicole Nordeman, Every Mile Mattered

I turned the key to the ignition, looked over at my travel mate and smiled. “Tell me about yourself,” I said. Anne (whose name I changed for anonymity) smiled back. “Well,” she said.  “In August of last year, I lost my 11-year-old son to cancer.”

Having talked with Anne a number of times at the conference we attended this past weekend, I can assure you this was not what I expected to come out of her mouth. Our conversations were so lovely and lighthearted that when she asked if I could give her a ride home from the conference (we were headed to similar destinations), I said “yes” without thinking twice. At one point before beginning our journey, the thought did cross my mind that Anne could, perhaps, be a serial killer who preyed on women at personal growth conferences; but it never once occurred to me that her story would be that of losing a child.

As we drove, Anne told me the details of the past two years of her life--hard, unfathomable things that should never come out of a mother’s mouth, much less be part of her reality. At one point, she stopped and said: “This is the most I’ve talked all weekend. I hope I’m not sharing too much.”

I grabbed her hand and told her to keep talking, and she did.

One hour, countless tears and a death grip on each other’s arms later, Anne finished talking. Not knowing what to say, I simply thanked her for choosing to share her story with me. Before she got out of the car, I asked: “What can someone like me—someone who has no experience with half of the heartache and loss you have been through, but who desperately wants to be there for you—do to help?”

She didn’t hesitate when she said: “Just listen.”

I had another hour in the car before reaching my house. During the drive, I contemplated exactly why I crossed paths with Anne. Why was I the one she chose to share her story with? I don’t know the answers to those questions; but days later, her parting words are still ringing in my ears. JUST. LISTEN.

While Anne was talking, I wracked my brain for ways to help her, when the thing she needed most was for me to remove myself from the equation almost entirely and JUST LISTEN.

This morning at the grocery store, I ran into a friend I’d lost touch with over the past year. I took one look at her and knew that something was wrong. As her story of a recent trauma started to spill out over the produce aisle at Trader Joe’s, I stopped her, told her to finish her shopping and come to my house for coffee. The next hour was, yet again, full of tears and holding on to one another for unspoken comfort. And when I didn’t know what to say, I heard Anne’s voice: JUST LISTEN.

So often, we run from the hard things in life. We avoid pain at all costs.

The job is too tough? We quit. The relationship is too difficult? We shut down emotionally. The conversation is too hard? We just don’t have it. But what happens when we can’t run or avoid pain? What happens when we have to sit with it, look it in the face and live it? Sometimes BEING BRAVE means making beauty for ashes even when we don’t want to or don’t know how.  

I will not share the details of Anne’s son’s death or my friend’s trauma here.  They are not my stories to share. I feel confident that those women will share their stories when they are ready; and they will be beautiful.

If I took anything away from the RISE conference, it was that women are so resilient. Each of us has a story to tell, and that story, no matter how big or small we might think it is, can leave a lasting impact on the lives of so many others. But if we don’t make ourselves available and allow ourselves to be ok with the hard conversations, we wont be able to receive the blessings that come from sharing our stories.

So let yourself be broken and sit with those who are. Invite them in. Seek them out. And when you don’t know what to say or do, JUST LISTEN. You never know when someone else’s story might help you write the first chapter in yours.

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