The universe is made up of stories, not atoms.
The other day in Seattle I was in a local drugstore and the cashier was obviously having a bad day. She couldn't muster up a smile, and was genuinely crabby to everyone who approached her register. People were getting really irritated with her, and in some ways they had every right to. The black cloud that hung over her head was threatening everyone's day. When I approached the register, I did my best to treat her with kindness and a smile, and I left the store without passing judgment. Believe me, I am no saint; I'm just as susceptible to getting annoyed with someone for rudeness. But one thing I've learned since Matthew died is that there's almost always a story behind someone's actions. Sometimes we just need to cut some slack, because we don't have any idea about what is really going on in their lives. We don't know if they have just lost a loved one, if they are waiting for results from a medical test, if they're being foreclosed on their house. It could be anything.
Everyone has stories, and our stories give life to our past experiences. After Matthew died, people started sharing their stories with me and I got a lot of comfort out of hearing them. Somehow it made me feel less alone with my own heartbreaking story knowing that others had survived tragic losses in their lives, and continued on. Sometimes I heard from people I thought I knew fairly well, and they came forward and told me about a loss that had occurred in their past that, quite frankly, shaped who they were today. It made me see them in a new way, and gave greater depth to our friendship.
Just today we attended my husband's oldest sister's wedding. I saw a woman there I hadn't seen in many years and she asked where our other son was. When I told her what happened to Matthew, she (of course) gave her condolences. There was a pause and then she leaned in to tell me that she had lost a daughter to suicide at the age of 30. All of a sudden, this lovely 93-year-old woman and I broke down all barriers of superficial talk and formed an instant connection. Our stories made us see each other quite differently and with much greater depth. It seemed so much more real.
We carry our stories with us on the journey we are on. They shape us and lend definition to our lives. As I've gotten older, I find I have little patience for superficial talk. I want to have real conversations with people and hear their stories, and I'll share mine. I read this great quote by Robert McKee that sums it up nicely:
"Stories are the creative conversion of life itself into a more powerful, clearer, more meaningful experience. They are the currency of human contact."