Posted by: Dan | June 11, 2006

Story-Telling and Story-Carrying

We all carry many stories within us. Some we tell often. Others are barely mentioned. And sometimes the most important stories are never told because there doesn’t seem to be an appropriate setting in which to tell them.
~ Charles Ringma, finding naasicaa: letters of hope in an age of anxiety

Having spent some years journeying with those on the margins of society, I often feel the weight of the stories that I carry. I thought that they would become lighter over time — these stories of broken lives, of beautiful children, of wonder and loss in dark places — but they have become heavier.

I think that these stories used to be lighter because I was quick to give them away. To be honest, a large part of the reason why I came to work on the streets in 1999 was because I was seeking adventure. So I was entertained by the violence and drugs, the sex and the rawness of it all. I came as a voyeur and boy did I ever encounter a whole range of gratifying emotions. As an adventurer, who wanted to be known as an adventurer, I quickly shared the stories I encountered with others — look, at the people I journey with, look at how radical I am! You’ll never believe what happened today, somebody died!

It is no wonder that my story-telling did little to bring others into relationships with those on the margins. I was journeying with the homeless as a consumer. I devoured their lives and then spat them back out so that my friends could also consume the entertaining and oh so shocking anecdotes that I spouted out at parties.

This story-telling, although speaking of the most important things, is fundamentally wrong for it springs from the wrong motives, it is spoken in the wrong context, and it is spoken to the wrong audience. It is something like throwing pearls before swine. Alas, I spent far too long treating God’s precious yet broken ones as objects of self-gratification, entertainment, and consumption.

Thank God that he has worked a continual process of conversion within me: a conversion to the crucified people of to today, a conversion to cruciformity, and a conversion to the Crucified One. Appropriately, as I have been undergoing this ongoing process of conversion I began to tell stories from the margins less and less. I realised that these stories are sacred, these stories are “the most important stories” and I began to wonder how I could share them with those who are not on the margins already. Wouldn’t I just be entertaining others with the sufferings of those that I loved? Wouldn’t I just be participating in the ongoing pornography of violence, of grief, of sex, and of loss that we feed on day after day? And so I began to pull back. It was with more and more hesitation that I shared my stories, especially stories about the most grievous things. My stories began to pile up within me. And they continue to do so. They are never too far from my mind. Once again I recall a conversation in a park, I remember a deal in an alleyway, I remember a dry spot beside a dumpster, and each of these things and places have people attached to them. But can I name them, or explain what happened? No, I cannot. So I put them away within me and I carry on.

You see, the reason why I have so much trouble sharing these stories is because, as Ringma suggests, the appropriate setting is almost always lacking. Because I have lost the desire to exploit these little ones in order to make myself look good. And I have lost the desire to exploit these little ones in order to amuse, shock, or gratify those who will not journey with people on the margins.

In a way I have lost faith in the power of these stories. Part of the reason I continued to share these stories with people, even after I began to realise their sacred nature, was because I thought these stories would lead others to the margins of society. I thought that maybe people didn’t act because they were ignorant. And so if others only knew the horror, the hell, and the totally fucked-up nature of some of these things, then maybe they would come and journey with these little ones. But I was wrong. Most people don’t journey on the margins of society, not because they lack knowledge; they don’t journey on the margins of society because they lack compassion. Plain and simple, it comes down to that. My stories are strong, it just turns out that apathy, self-indulgence, and distraction are stronger.

And so it goes. The most important stories are never told because there is no place provided for them. I will not share my stories from the margins, but you need to know that the ones that you love will also never share their most important stories with you. You will never know that your daughter was raped because you never created a place where she could tell you. You will never know that your son is gay because you never created a setting where he could tell you. And so on.

Everyday the people closest to us are hoping to find a setting that is safe, they are hoping to find an appropriate setting in which to tell us these things, but we never give it to them. So they carry them for as long as they can, and some of them learn to survive with that weight on their shoulders and others of them don’t. I am mostly weighed down with the stories of others, I cannot imagine what that weight would feel like if those stories were my own. Regardless, I will not lighten this load until I find the appropriate setting. And I keep thinking that I’ll find it among Christians, but they keep proving me wrong.

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