“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Maya Angelou
“Everyone has a story,” I remarked to my friend as she blessed my heart over learning things about me she didn’t know.
“We both know that,” she responded. We don’t have to know much to know that there is no one who doesn’t have a story.
What is your story? I don’t mean the story you choose ever so carefully to share with people; I mean the story that tells what’s in your soul, the story that explains what drives you to be the person you are. Everyone has a story. Sometimes, someone needs to hear our story, and sometimes we need to take a minute to ask someone to share. I have a story. There are many levels of my story, though, and I choose to share very seldom because in general people don’t know how to handle a story that is so different from their own.
Here’s a little part of my story that I’d like to share. My mother taught me to care about and to listen to people, from an early age. Pulling up to The Meadows, we would unload our car and walk into the building with bags of goodies in our hands. “Good morning, ladies!” We were greeted by the nurse… and the smell. The smell of The Meadows was unlike anything I had smelled before. The Meadows was what my mother called a nursing home, and the people who lived there needed us to visit. Our weekly trips to visit were disguised as an opportunity to do business, as we were “the rolling store” and provided people an opportunity to purchase things they would buy if they could go to the drugstore. On our cart that we pushed through the halls and into the rooms of the sprawling building were pocket-size combs, small tubes of hand lotion, ChapStik, personal packages of tissues, Lifesaver candies, small bags of potato chips, word search puzzle books, and Juicy Fruit and Wrigley’s Spearmint chewing gum. Most items cost the residents a nickel, but some were as much as a quarter. I learned a lot about the needs of those really old and wrinkled people—their physical needs and their emotional needs. We had our regulars who seemed to look forward to our visits as much as we looked forward to seeing them. My favorite person at The Meadows was Mrs. Bennett. She changed the way I saw old people, and she was the reason I decided to resent families who were too busy to check on their mama or daddy, their aunt or uncle, or their granny or grandpa. Mrs. Bennett was the sweetest lady I’d ever known, and she loved her son and his family. I guess her son loved her—she said he did, but I was around seven years old, and I couldn’t understand why a son wouldn’t come to visit his mother. “Mrs. Bennett, I hope your son comes to see you this weekend,” I would say. She would respond with a tear in her eye, “Oh sweetie, he’ll come when he can.”
For Mrs. Bennett, there must have been agony in the story she wasn’t telling me, and yet I heard plenty in what she said. Whose story might you need to hear? It doesn’t require a trip to the nursing home or even a lengthy phone call.
Knowing someone’s story will change the way you see them and the way you see others in the world around you. Your world is about more than you and your problems, regardless of what you might think. Set your problems aside long enough to let someone else know you care, unless you just really don’t care. That’s ok, too, though. There are listeners, there are sharers, and there are those who just really don’t think they need anyone else.
I promised myself that I would never be like Mrs. Bennett’s son, and that my mother would never have to feel like Mrs. Bennett because of me. Sometimes, gifts are disguised as necessities so that the recipients won’t feel like they’ve caused another person any worry or problem. The drugstore items on that cart were for residents who needed to feel a sense of independence in surroundings that screamed of dependence. As they cried out for joy of a familiar face or sadness of a lost memory, they taught me the value of time spent loving and learning about people of a different generation. The Rolling Cart appeared to be for the residents, but in fact it was the beginning of a young girl’s understanding the need for relationship. “I hope your son comes to see you this weekend, Mrs. Bennett.” “Oh sweetie, he’ll come when he can,” she said with tears in her eyes.
My story has been shaped by the people I have allowed into my life. If Maya Angelou’s words are true, there is agony living within many as their stories remain untold. What if I am brave enough to hear someone else’s story today? Perhaps my own story will be enriched just a bit more, as their agony is lessened, and just maybe I’ll have the courage to share a little more of my own story when the time is right.