I listen to stories for a living. Sometimes they’re joyful ones like hearing about a baby’s first smile or a successful trip to the grocery store with a newborn. However, sometimes the stories I listen to are painful ones about a sexual assault or how it felt birthing a dead baby. Every day I venture into the unknown as I knock on the door of my client’s homes never knowing what story I will be given that day and whether it will be one that wounds me to my core.
I started going to story slams earlier this year in Philly, and it has become one of my favorite events to go to. A story slam is where there is a predetermined topic and people come prepared to share an experience that reflects that theme. One slam that I went to had a lot of talented storytellers who often weaved in humor into their pieces to lighten some serious events and get the crowd laughing. After several people shared their stories, there came a man who went up on stage and talked about his experience with cancer. No jokes, no lighthearted anecdotes. Just the raw truth of how he almost died and that sometimes he wished he had. After he was finished people politely applauded, but I could feel the discomfort in the room as the host for the evening returned to the mic.
“We need that sometimes,” the host said to the crowd. “I want people to know that these stories don’t have to be happy if they aren’t happy. They don’t have to be anything except true.”
I’ve learned in my practice of listening to stories that the heavily edited version of myself isn’t the part of me that God uses to draw people to Him. The reason I know this to be true is because the parts of the people I love and care about are also what makes them so completely imperfect. It’s the flawed parts of loving that makes me wonder if as a culture we’ve adopted an entitled attitude in only exposing ourselves to the stories that are aesthetically pleasing to us. We habitually change the channel, filter our newsfeed, metaphorically put our fingers in our ears, and even worse, walk away from people in need of our empathy and compassion because it seems too ugly, messy, and hard. In turn, we don’t realize how much we are cheating ourselves from truly experiencing the real beauty in humanity. A beauty that includes stories that may be challenging to hear and be a part of.
There is a storytelling podcast called The Moth and above is a story from a woman who presented at one of their community showcases in Seattle. She shares what it was like for her to find a home in community after her marriage fell apart. I hope that as you listen to her unpolished truth that it inspires you, as much as it has for me, to let others in on your first drafts and to choose to lean into theirs.