“It is a great mystery that though the human heart longs for Truth, in which alone it finds liberation and delight, the first reaction of human beings to Truth is hostility and fear. So the Spiritual Teachers of Humanity, like Jesus and the Buddha, created a device to circumvent the opposition of their listeners: the story. They knew that the most entrancing words a language holds are these: once upon a time. They knew that it is common to oppose a truth but it is impossible to resist a story. One ancient teacher, Vyasa – the Hindu tradition – has said that if you listen carefully to a story you will never be the same again. That is because the story will worm its way into your heart and break down barriers to the divine.” – Anthony deMello, S.J.
What stories have shaped your life?
What stories were you told, again and again, as a child?
And – what stories do you tell, again and again, to your own children?
What is the story of your life? Who are the characters? How does the story unfold? How has the story changed? Is there a pattern to your story?
Is the story you would tell today the same as the story you would have told a year ago?
A decade ago? What story do you want to be yours when you die?
When you tell the story, what parts do you want to have remembered? What do you leave out?
As a girl, my father would sometimes come to tell me a story so that I would go to sleep. His favorite – or was it my favorite? – was Jack and the Beanstalk. My father was a great story-teller with a gravelly voice, and he would begin the story: “Once upon a time…” Soon – and this is the part I remember, the embellishments would begin. Dad would make that beanstalk grow so big, big, big, big, into the sky. I could see the bright, richly green leaves, and I could see them growing bigger, and the beanstalk growing taller and taller into the sky. I can still see that beanstalk! Then, there was the giant. Dad would say what the giant had to eat – and drink! My dad was a beer drinker, so most of all, I remember the cases and cases and cases of beer the giant had stored up. Sometimes, though, we didn’t get to that place in the story. Dad fell asleep before I did, time after time, and the story gave way to his snoring…
There is a great power in stories. The indigenous people knew this, and the elders told the story – the creation of the people, stories about the great gods, the powers, the animals and birds – again and again. Deep inside all people is the understanding that the story is basic, is part of who we are. We are our story. We are the story of our ancestors.
Because the stories of the powerful are the stories that history recounts, those with less power have a need to tell their stories. This is the need of the indigenous people, of women, of people of color, of religious minorities. This is my story. This is who I am. This is why I am here. This is my truth.
Telling the story of the less powerful is a kind of structure, a structure of safety.
Maybe you need healing today. Maybe something has been gnawing, gnawing inside of you for months or years or decades. Maybe it is eating you alive, eating a part of you to death. Only you know it. Maybe what you need healing from is something you go over and over in your mind, and you have turned it over, for a long, long time. But you can’t let go. That you know. You may not know what it is doing to you, how your life is less because of this thing gnawing your insides.
The way to heal is this: you tell your story to someone who will listen. You tell your story with as much truth as you can muster. And to do this, you must find someone safe to listen to your story. Who is safe? Someone who is safe will not try to change you. Someone safe will not interrupt you as you tell the story. Someone who is safe will not say: “oh, you shouldn’t feel that way.” Someone safe will simply – and profoundly – listen to your story. It is your story, and you tell your story as you understand it.
And, you are healed. If you are not healed, then you must tell your story, again and again, until you are healed. That may take months. It may take years. It may take decades. You will tell your story as long as it has the power to destroy you.
You will tell a silent witness. That is the true power of confession.
My thought is that those people who have told their story honestly, without making a hard story “nice,” are the people who can be trusted. A woman I know says this: “my father was a pedophile.” She speaks of her suffering. She also has a wonderful laugh, and she is a joy to be with. She tells the truth; and she is a joy. She is a person who can be trusted. She has faced her life as it is/was, and she has survived.
My thought is that those who have not reflected on their own story, who cannot/will not tell the truth, who continue to speak as if everything is good and has always been good, cannot be trusted.
When you go looking for your witness, please, please find someone who has told the truth about their own life. Look for someone who will listen, then, to your truth, in all its gritty darkness. When there is one who knows that darkness is in them, too, that one can be trusted with your story.