Stories That Join
In the aftermath of this horrific hurricane, I was thinking back to an experience I had when I was working at the Stress Center this summer. I was leading the community time for the adult mental health and addictions patients; this is often a quiet and sleepy time where folks who have just received their meds come in and gather for their first group meeting of the day. Typically there were between 10 and 20 people present, and we all sat together in a gathering space where they serve meals later in the day. I always began the morning with a simple story that had some kind of theme related to recovery or healing; sometimes I wrote the stories and sometimes I read stories written by other authors.
On this day, I felt compelled to take in a story I'd written last year, about the mini-flood my neighborhood experienced after four days of torrential rain. I wasn't sure why I wanted to read it or how folks would respond. The openness and engagement of the group varied widely from day to day.
I said my good mornings and told the story, embellishing a little as I talked. I could see from their eyes and postures that they were really connecting with the story. Then, slowly, to my surprise, folks began talking. And for the next 15 minutes, we all shared our experiences of that same flood two years ago--remembering the hardship, the loss, the awful feelings, the fear; but ultimately talking about the miracle of the goodness of people who came to help, offering rides, donating dry clothes, helping children get home from school, making sure we were safe. Just by starting with the story of a flood, that morning the room became filled with hope. People who had never made eye contact with me before were suddenly leaning forward and speaking about what happened to them. Folks who had never said a word to any of the other patients now tuned in and listened, connecting to the group, moving out of their isolation.
As I watch on the news the unspeakable loss and erupting anger that is part of the nature of this type of tragedy, I remember how unifying it was for all of us in the hospital that day to talk about the lesser crisis that had made us one. It didn't take away the very real hardship of the circumstances, but it brought with it the miracle of community. We'd all been there. We'd all been afraid. We'd all suffered. We'd all survived. And people--real people, not governments or agencies or social structures--were good, loving, kind, and giving in the midst of that crisis. We'd seen it with our own eyes. And we believed it.