As a mental health counselor, I work with people’s stories, their stories of life. I would often hear their unheard stories, stories of innocence, tragedy, love, abuse, and sometimes, if I was especially blessed, stories of transformation. In January, I will start teaching at a college where narrative therapy is the most widely used approach. I was trained at a school where the story of your own life was preciously and meticulously examined. I have a faith that often implores me to remember the story of redemption and how it occurred. Needless to say, stories are an often thought-about part of my life.
I’ve had this experience before, especially in cities where I’ll look around at the throngs of humans around me and realize each one of these people have stories – complex, unique, dare I say holy stories. Stories that can be talked about and known well but never fully known or experienced by another in the same way they have experienced them. Stories that have changed their lives in drastic ways, stories that define and affect who they are and how they are in the world.
Yesterday as we were driving through Jaipur, a “small” but extremely busy city of three million, this same thought kept washing over me as I looked around me and saw different faces. I looked at each and wondered what were the important stories of their lives and did anyone else know them. There was the sad emaciated woman with two stubs instead of arms that came looking for food, the small child held by a begging mother with disheveled hair also looking for a meal. I thought of our driver who has three sons, one a cook and another a “good” mechanic, whose salary seven years ago went from 18,000 ($400) rupees a month to his current 3,000 ($70) a month. There was the auto rickshaw driver with his “bad son” that only eats one meal a day who wanted us to pray to his Hindi god when we stopped near a temple, or the many hotel porters that studied the bald white man suddenly in their hotel (one who insisted I looked like Stone Cold?? the WWF wrestler – more on this later), or the rich hotel owner that booked our trip who repeatedly said he didn’t have to worry about money because his family was rich (but also paid his driver 3,000 R a month). What were and are the “stories” behind these people. Suddenly sorrow rushed over me as I wondered about the certain tragedy and hardship in these peoples lives and I wondered about who knows this. I believe there is a God who knows these stories but I questioned his action in them. It seemed overwhelming to know there are 1.3 billion stories.