We sat in a circle and listened to the narrative of her 23 years. The African dusk light brought radiance to the moment, yet the real beauty was in the telling and the hearing. I wished I could take a photo, but I knew my camera would break the fragile moment, and the photograph couldn’t capture the connection.
Recently we shared and listened to the timelines of our Local Apprentices, each person vulnerably offering their delicate constructs of memory and pain and hope. As the rest of us listened, we held their stories tenderly. There had been fear of judgement prior, ‘but then I realised, that we all have our stories’ as one friend said. It was a sacred time as we listened to the pain of death, rejection, poverty and the hope of new life, fresh chances and restored relationships. As each person shared, they gave the next the courage to be honest and open. A holy moment happened as we witnessed one another’s vulnerabilities.
This is one thing (of many) that I love about our organisation – the significance recognised in the stories of individuals and our communities. When a team is initially being considered in a new neighbourhood we first listen to the history of the community, the tales of what is already happening there. Visitors to our team are often asked to share their ‘timeline’ – their history, major events, highs and lows, relationships. As an individual shares, we look for the hints of grace and meaning throughout, we speak out the goodness that we see in the midst. I have seen so many healing moments in those times of telling and listening.
Mother Teresa said ‘if we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other’. And we do belong to each other: in these sharing, connecting times the threads of our common humanity are tangible.
Our world needs more respectful story telling and more deep listening. South Africa is diverse and divided: black and white, rich and poor, tribe against tribe. Current divisive politics across the globe also show a lack of compassion for those different from us. When you’ve caught a glimpse of someone’s humanity, even if they are ‘other’, you cannot go back to simple stereotypes. I find hope in stories of people sharing meals and speaking honestly about their differences. Seeing through the stereotypes to a person’s heart and humanity can be truly transformative.
May we be people who listen well across divides and differences, may we speak out the goodness we see in others and may we share our own stories with humility and courage.