Monday, January 23, 2012

Everyone has a story

     My mother has always said:  Everyone has a story.  Man, have I found that to be true!  Do you watch people around you, really watch them?  Do you listen though, as they speak?  This perhaps is  most difficult to do.  For I think when we pause, letting another person tell you their story, then we can truly walk a bit in their shoes, seeing where they come from.
     He was the strange man in the neighborhood.  People referred to him as "mildly retarded" in those days.  It was back in the late sixties.  I was eight years old.
     My girlfriend and I would be playing outside.  Whether it was bike riding, hopscotch, countless games of pretend, we would see him walking toward us in the distance.
     "Run," we would say in unison, "Hide."  For we knew to be cornered by Terry would mean at least an hour of his tragic, neighborhood stories.  He had no friends, nobody to talk with. 
     I asked my mother about him.  She was living in her own world of depression in those days.  Yet she said something which surprised me.  She asked if I would try being kind to him.  Let him talk instead of running away when he appeared.
     "Easy for you to say," I thought.  She wasn't the one who had to stand there and listen as he droned on and on about the sadness going on behind our neighbors closed doors.
     No matter what Mom was going through in her life, she never failed to be compassionate.  It was something she instilled in me at a very early age.  She was trying to turn me into a listener.  An observer of the world.  In doing so, I would learn so much more than what outward appearances showed.
     The next time Terry appeared, I let him talk.  He hardly made eye contact as he told us about an old lady down the block, and the ambulance which whisked her away.  He seemed to only speak of the bad things going on around us.  But he seemed grateful to have a listening ear.
     The more I thought about it, Mom was right.  My young heart broke for this man, this tragic soul who had nobody except his family to care what he talked about.
     I stopped running, and started listening.  Daily he would rattle on and on with his stories of sorrow.   I saw the world as Terry was seeing it, through a heart and soul of a man who would never really be a man.
     Years later, I would think of him, wondering what had happened to him.  I know he changed me in many ways as a person.   He taught me compassion.  He taught me patience.   It was this compassion and patience which would stick with me all my life.  Truly listening when people tell their own stories. 
     I hope Terry had a good life.