You can take one look at my possessions and my bank statements to tell I love a good story. While some people spend money on shoes or cars or fancy meals or vacations, I buy books and movies when I have a little bit of extra money. Between Amazon Prime and Orlando’s amazing used bookstore, Brightlight Books, being ever close to my finger tips, I can usually get a good book or movie for about $5 when I have it.
I love books and movies because I love stories. I absorb mysteries, thrillers, actions, biographies, documentaries, biographies, autobiographies, dramas, comedies, tragedies, and everything in between with all of my “spare” energy. I have the incredible gift of being a very fast reader so that helps my reading habit.
Zach Van Dyke, one of the teaching pastors at my church in Orlando, recently preached a sermon about the Golden Rule and how we can have compassion for others by being curious about their stories. He said wisdom is the gathering of stories. If that is the case, then I am well on my way to a Doctorate in Stories because I love learning and gathering stories from people of all different backgrounds. I watch, and re-watch, and re-re-watch movies because I get so immersed in the stories behind the characters. I read, re-read, and re-re-read books because I learn something new every time I pick up a good book.
Once a year I set aside some time to watch the following films: All three Lord of the Rings, all three Batmans (Batman Begins + The Dark Knight + The Dark Knight Rises), and Gone with the Wind. Can we say three INCREDIBLE stories?
I have just finished re-re-re-reading To Kill A Mockingbird and A Million Miles in a Thousand Years. One is a great story, and the other is a book about living a great story. I have read both of these books several times and I still gain wisdom each time I pick both books up for a long afternoon read.
Today, as I shared this week’s sermon in the jail with my friends there, I wondered what it was like for them to think about life as a story and then start to learn their own stories. When I asked them about this, they started telling stories of times when they wanted to be compassionate but it was hard for them. They told stories of fellow inmates soiling themselves and vomiting uncontrollably and failing off of bunks and having seizures and either feeling compelled to help or totally helpless and even resentful. We talked about what it would be like if they were curious about other people’s stories rather than judgmental. And then they turned it back on me…
They asked me if I ever have a hard time with people at work and relating to them. Man, that cut me to the core. I am basically a professional empathizer. People pay me to empathize with them, not to judge them. And I am not going to lie, some people are really hard to empathize with as they sit on the couch across from me. I really have to push myself sometimes to step outside of myself and get over my own fears and misconceptions and insecurities. One of my professors and supervisors in graduate school always instructed us to “ask for story” when a session wasn’t going well or we felt lost. Story always brings up opportunities for truth and questions and empathy. I can’t hear a story and not wonder what that was like for the person living in it.
I train my mind and heart for empathy by reading and watching and listening to stories. The more stories I hear and experience, the more I realize we are all so very similar, no matter where we come from or with what we have struggled. Every movie, every book, whether I end up liking it or not, reminds me that people are so unique and so complex. Who am I to limit someone with my own feeble experience and understanding?