Reflection: Telling stories

In Day Twenty Six, the patient spent about 30 minutes telling me stories. Not stories of how she found herself in the hospital, not stories of what she was going to do when she got out of the hospital, but stories about her husband who had passed years before I walked into her hospital room. It was through these stories that she was able to remember who she was and why, although down now, this is not the end of the story.

Barbara Brown Taylor, in her book An Altar in the World, says “At the very least, most of us need someone to tell our stories to. At a deeper level, most of us need someone to help us forget ourselves, a little or a lot. The great wisdom traditions of the world all recognize that the main impediment to living a life of meaning is being self-absorbed.”[1]

To put it simply, people need to tell their stories; I’ve seen it be a large part of the healing process. This summer, however, I’ve seen that more than needing to tell their stories, people need to be heard. It is in the listening of people’s stories, not merely the telling of our own, that we are afforded abstinence from self-absorption. One particularly sad day, I sat with a woman who told me stories of the 1940s, the love and the life she had in that decade and all I could think of was myself. I was sitting there, being quiet and letting her talk, but I was hardly listening. The inner dialogue of my own deep sadness was taking control and I wasn’t being present. In an attempt to change the course of this interaction, I began to become more engaged, asking her questions which allowed her space to reflect on how God has moved throughout her 90 plus years of life.

It takes courage to tell our own stories, as they are generally marred with tragedies of some sort, but it takes intentionally recognizing that this person, this other human being, beloved by God, has a story that, while it is no worse or better than my own, needs to be heard. And it is through the hearing of others that we can see God.



[1] Taylor, Barbara Brown. An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith. New York: HarperOne, 2009. 91.

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