He said “Thank you for listening.” I probably muttered “of course” or “you’re welcome” out loud, yet my heart was screaming, thank you for sharing, thank you for your openness. Thank you for taking the leap to share your story with someone.
We all carry stories. They make up our core. They define our person and often our view of the world. Sharing these stories invites someone else into your world to bear witness to the pieces that you are made of. The power that stories yield comes from the process of telling them – from the effect of the process on the teller to the response of and effect on the listener. It is a shared experience. Once shared, the story is transformed beyond the individual, as it is held by both people. It becomes part of both individual’s understanding of each other and the broader world.
Our lives present countless moments to hear stories – from the person next to you on the plane to a close friend who you continue to learn more about. The moments exist, yet they require an openness and confidence in the process. Stories require listening and questions, and above all curiosity.
This week my life presented me with many opportunities to hear stories. I traveled to San Antonio, Texas to support the Wounded Warrior Amputee Football team. I had met team members during a previous football game and was excited to connect again and help out with the game logistics. One does not arrive to playing for a veteran’s amputee football team without a story. Players most likely have a story of service, potentially of combat, followed by one of physical and emotional healing. Yet the contours of each story are dictated by varying countries, traumas, and challenges upon returning home. The stories contain threads of grief, loss of friends killed in action, family, desire to protect fellow soldiers, the pain of healing physically, and the emotional scars that make adjusting to post-military life challenging.
Listening, really listening requires empathy. It is an emotional and physical act to allow yourself to walk in someone else’s shoes. My new friend took me to Iraq through his descriptions of missions, his experiences of family and friendship, and the memories that persist. I listened, attempting to project empathy as his map of loss meshed with my own understand of grief and healing. Listening to him reminded me that it is a continual process, some parts fade, while others continue to feel raw. Navigating the contours of grief and healing together is crucial and it begins with a heart that is open to stories.