I saw something last night that lassooed my wobbly faith in humanity.
It was one of those had-to-be-there moments that are hard to put into words, but I’ll try. Under the direction of Tim Miller, a group of people from a variety of backgrounds, meaning that they were not all trained performers, told their personal stories through words and movement. It sounds so simple and it was.
No car crashes. No surround sound. No Brangelina. No blood. No seduction.
Just some stories told by ordinary folks.
A day later, I was still thinking about the show. When art hits you that way, it’s downright healing, at least for my tired soul. And it got me to thinking about the importance of stories themselves, how they connect us to something: our imagination, our feelings, beauty, spirit, how they teach us about life and help us to find our place in the abyss. Good stories, that is.
I just sat there on the floor of the Harvard black box theater beaming in awe of each person’s specialness. Each story was a unique gem that made me see the storyteller in the light of its sparkle. To see the specialness of someone is a gift of compassion. I wanted to be able to see everyone in the world with those eyes. Maybe I can’t know everyone’s individual story, but I can certainly try to remember that they have one in the first place and feel into them from there.
I also got to thinking about how the nature of stories, which is interconnectedness, helps us to grow in compassion. We humans get a little stuck around compassion. Maybe you’ve noticed. I don’t know if our sense of compassion is getting better in this age of technology, but tend to think that when there is only you and one other person walking towards each other on the same street and that other person fails to acknowledge you, inches away, because they are on their cell phone, that our sense of compassion is suffering.
It’s not that we’re mean. It’s that we’re distracted. But that in itself, one’s level of distraction, is in some way a measure of compassion. It is a lack of compassion that distracts you from what or whom you are with. It takes a dose of compassion, presence and awareness to say hi, to smile, to at least look someone in the eye. Maybe wink at a sista once in awhile.
Anyway, I digress…compassion…oh yeah. Another thing about that show is that it helped me to understand something about us all being special and ordinary at the same time. I think accepting our ordinariness is another thing we humans struggle with, especially in this time of reality-tv-insta-fame.
Our commercial, modern world really has us by the throats around this issue. We are constantly taunted that we should be faster, thinner, smarter, richer, and more famous in order to be better than the person next to us. We really have to examine the extent to which competition motivates our actions. None of the stuff we acquire through our competitive, fearful grasping actually makes us better, so we are given more products, thinner models, faster phones, more channels, to keep us reaching.
I think the nature of story-telling’s interconnectedness helps us to heal ourselves from competitive, fearful grasping (CFG) by helping us to understand the paradox of the special and the ordinary. What I mean is that stories, if looked at from above, form a sort of web. One story connects with another, with another, with another. They connect through shared time, history, people, places, things and experiences.
When a story is told, there are usually main characters, but when looked at from above, you may see that an ant that played a small role in one story plays the central role in another. Up close, sometimes we are the star. Other times not. But from above, we are both simultaneously. What’s important is not that one is a star, but that one simply plays one’s role.
Even the ones among us who play big roles in many stories will one day be forgotten. What’s important is that the story keeps moving, keeps getting told. It’s the story, the Big Story of Us, that through its telling, gets into us, and stays alive, also through us.