The waiting room was cold, crowded and quiet. The only thing more awkward than the silence was the invasion of personal space made evident by the pressed shoulders of bodies, waiting to be called by their impersonal last names. It was supposed to be a regular check up, to ensure my body was as healthy as I thought it could be, or at least...should be. Some eyes looked down, while others looked up. Some eyes were closed while others were a bit too wide open for my comfort. Whatever the case, I felt alone in a room full of people.
And then, it happened.
A ring pierced the silence, followed by the fumbling through a purse. One ring...two rings...three rings. You could feel irritation nudging every person as we all appeared to want a return to our retreat of disconnection in the form of quietness. By this point, most eyes were rolling, until finally, she answered with a simple, "This is Rhonda." She was sitting right next to me, trying to speak in her inside voice, yet finding it difficult to maintain her composure as her outside voice began to crack and her breath began to syncopate. "He passed away on Sunday. We were expecting it but weren't ready for it," Rhonda said. Then came the tears followed by the crying.
The call was brief but the mourning seemed long. I looked to Rhonda, and asked, "Are you okay?" It seems that this question goes best with a hand to the shoulder, as this is what I naturally did. "I'm sorry," she replied. "It's my dad...he passed away on Sunday." Little did Rhonda know that I too was licking my heart wounds as my dad had passed away the previous week. There were many things I could have said at that moment. There were many words I could have chosen. But without much thought nor internal assessment, I replied,
Something happened at that moment. The disconnection that permeated the room began to crumble as we engaged in conversation of loss, heart break and coping. Others began to interject with their stories of "me too." Some had recently lost loved ones to cancer, while others to violence. Some at a young age, while others more advanced in age. The stories converted a cold waiting room into a warm, impromptu support group. What once felt disconnected began to feel connected through the connecting power of, "Me too."
Writer Anne Lamott says that the most powerful sermon in the world is two words: "Me too." When your wounded, hurting, broken, confused, struggling, feeling alone, not knowing how you'll make it through, and someone can identify with the words, "Me too," --this can rescue you. When someone knows the pain, felt the struggle and lived to tell the story--this can save you.
"Me too" is powerful because it puts flesh, bones and breath into empathy. "Me too," connects that which was once disconnected. "Me too," adds meaning and significance and even purpose to the stories that we live in and ultimately, live through. When we realize that we are not alone, we become free to stop living as loners. Our pain no longer remains just our pain. It rises up from the ashes, connects with someone else's pain, and in some beautiful and mysterious way, takes a redemptive turn.
This is the magic of "Me too." This is the beauty of empathy, This is the power of our stories.
The human experience is a collection of stories we've lived to tell, for better or worse. Stories help us make meaning of life as they help us live meaningful lives. Stories are the thread that weave together the fabric of humanity. When we discover that "my story," is connected to "your story," we live in the space of our story. We realize that we are story.
I am beginning a journey to collect stories that make us human, and connect them to humanity. My hope is to create a space where people can tell what they've been through so that others can find meaning in what they're going through.
Because I believe that compassion is just a story away, I want to collect and tell stories that connect us as humans.
So I invite you to journey with me. Read the stories. Spread the stories. Share the stories that you've lived to tell, for better or worse.
Because we all have a story to tell, we all have someone waiting for our story.
As I endeavor on this project with you, my hope is that you'd find power in the stories of others and find purpose in the story of you.
And so I speak to your stories, my fellow reader and journeyer, and say with conviction and compassion...