Tuesday, September 06, 2005

Stories that join

In the aftermath of this horrific hurricane, I was thinking back to an experience I had at the Stress Center this summer. I was leading the community time for the adult mental health and addictions patients; this is often a quiet and sleepy time where folks who have just received their meds come in and gather for their first group meeting of the day. Typically there were between 10 and 20 people present, and we all sat together in a gathering space where they serve meals later in the day. I would begin the morning with a simple story that had some kind of theme related to recovery or healing; sometimes I wrote the stories and sometimes I read stories written by other authors.

On this day, I felt compelled to take in a story I'd written last year, about the mini-flood my neighborhood had experienced when we had six inches of rain in two hours one afternoon. I wasn't sure why I wanted to read it or how folks would respond. Peoples' openness and engagement varied widely from day to day.

I said my good mornings and told the story, embellishing a little as I talked. I could see from the eyes and the postures that people were really connecting with the story. Then, for the next 15 minutes, they talked about their own experiences of that same flood two years ago--telling both about the hardship of what happened to them, what they lost, what it felt like, and the miracle of the goodness of people who came to help, offering rides, donating dry clothes, helping children get home from school.

As I watch the unspeakable loss and erupting anger that is part of the nature of this type of tragedy, I remember how unifying it was for all of us in the hospital that day to talk about a tragedy that had made us one. It didn't take away the very real hardship of the circumstances, but it brought with it the miracle of community. We'd all been there. We'd all been afraid. We'd all suffered. We'd all survived. And people--real people, not governments or agencies or social structures--were good, loving, kind, and giving in the midst of that crisis. We'd seen it with our own eyes. And we believed it.


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