Since I was a child, people - people I don't know or barely know - have told me their stories. They have shared with me details of their lives that surprises me in its intimacy. I have often attributed this to my super power of invisibility...maybe they sense me there - but aren't sure...therefore their story is safe with me.
I usually don't say much of anything - just listen...frequently because I don't know what to say. One time at the store, when I asked the checker how her day was she responded by tearing up. "Are you okay?" I asked. "Today is my birthday," she replied, "and I miss my kids. I got 3 kids and I haven't seen 'em in a year. I tried to call 'em - but my parents won't let me talk to them. I don't understand why I can't just talk to them....I want 'em to know I am thinkin' about them. It's just especially hard because it's my birthday. I just wanted that as my birthday present." "I'm so sorry." I say. I wonder why she doesn't have her kids, why her parents won't let her talk to them. It must be fairly serious - since it seems as if she doesn't have visitation...but she was clearly distraught. As she continued to scan my groceries she started telling me about each one of her kids. She pulled a worn Christmas picture of the three children out of the pocket of her smock. She pointed to each one and told me their names - how old they were in the picture - how old they are now. She asked me if I had any kids. "I have 2 girls." I said. "Well, don't you ever do anything that would screw up living with them...never." "I won't." I said. I gathered up my groceries and told her good-bye....and left wondering what would happen to this woman, and more importantly, what would happen to her children.
For years the same man would come to my business to re-certify every one's cpr and first aid certifications. I will call him John. John taught through stories - okay, not stories, but real first aid and even life and death situations where he had been on hand to issue aid. One day, after finishing our staff training he started to chat with me. He had a great sense of humor, and some pretty funny stories to tell. Somehow, our conversation moved to his time in Special Ops for the army. He served as a member of a medical team. Their "Special Operation" was actually helping the citizens of Afghanistan - treating a variety of ailments, from toothaches to more serious problems. Their mission was to build a relationship and trust with the community to improve feelings about the American troops being there. One day they had spent some time treating a teen aged boy who was wary at first. They won him over and soon he felt at ease and was laughing with John and the other medic. Apparently, this boy was thought to have some knowledge about the whereabouts of key Taliban members. A young soldier came and began interrogating the boy....roughly, physically....John teared up as he told me this. "We had worked so hard, so hard at getting him to trust us. So hard, working on healing ALL of his wounds...and then this young punk comes and un-does EVERYTHING. I couldn't take it anymore." He seemed to suddenly come to an awareness of his surroundings, "I'm sorry," he said. "I don't know why I went in to all of that. Tell me about you...tell me about your life." Trust me - there is pretty much nothing you can say about your own life after hearing a harrowing story like his.
If you have read my blog for awhile, you'll know I have shared a few more recent instances.
I have stories like this that go all the way back to elementary school. Some of the stories are sad, some funny and some down right inappropriate - but there are many. I feel honored, but puzzled, about why people tell me their stories. I am not sure if Heavenly Father has placed me their because that person needs to share their thoughts, or because I need to hear them for my own life learning. Maybe it's both. What I think it really means is that in this age of fear, paranoia over privacy, people are desperately looking for support - or understanding - even from a stranger. I think being there to listen is something I can do.