Thursday, November 26, 2009

The Stories We Tell

I've just returned from travelling to Chicago for our daughter's engagement party and I'll admit it, I am one of those travellers who enjoys talking to strangers. I find that because of the temporary nature of their acquaintance, you can often learn more about their lives than they would share with their most intimate friends. On the way back to the airport, I was (affectionately at least) teasing my 82 year old mother, who, by that time, was getting on everybody's nerves. The woman seated across from us smiled and said, "that puts a good perspective on my weekend". She had, we soon learned, been in Chicago to bury her mother, who died suddenly. She learned of the death not from her estranged brother (who lived there), but from a cousin, who posted it on "Facebook". On the trip home, I sat beside a woman about my age who told me she'd have help making Thanksgiving dinner this year from her son, who was attending culinary school. I learned later that he had dropped out of High School after his parents spent $48,000. in rehab therapy, and that she was struggling with her husband to persuade him to allow him to stay in the family home after he turns 18 next month.

In the mediations over which I preside, I hear so many personal stories of strangers. They are grateful to have someone who will objectively hear them out. What did I do wrong to deserve to be fired from my job? Why didn't he appreciate the loyalty and energy I put into building his business over so many years? Why didn't they like me on the floor of the hospital where I worked? Why didn't they understand that I just needed some more time to heal? Why didn't they know how badly I was hurting? Why didn't they apologize?

The stories and small acts of kindness of strangers can make so much difference. Listening to the stories and reflecting on the little acts which make a life can be so important. On this Thanksgiving morning, I am so grateful to have these opportunities--large and small to provide perspective, levity, hope and friendship to strangers among us. Happy Thanksgiving to one and all.

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