There are decades wrapped into her wrinkles, tragedies and triumphs trapped beneath the crepey skin and watery eyes. For the first time, I realize the weight of the world she’s lived in and the critical impact of each event in her life on the next. Tears spill from her eyes and words relay her anger and fears. After her father’s death, she believed she, too, would abandon a family one day as he had done. And so she avoided relationships, commitments, defining purpose and fell into next steps as time marched through the years. He died when she was just 15 and 65 years later, words shaped the anguish anew. Now we are sitting in her living room, and her sharing allows a new empathy where our lives intersect, a connection that did not exist before. We are of different generations in one family and the sharing matters. She matters. For those moments, we have entered the narrow gate, dared to chose the opening rather than walking along outside the wall. The conversation opens up the opportunity for more.
Afterwards, I realize the corporate family memories have gained new dimensions. It is not about who is right or wrong, or which memory is most accurate. It is more about receving the reality a person defines, believes in, lives by. In receiving it, learning it, there is the chance to enter the space another lives in, to mitigate the aloneness and to tenderly carry the burden together. There are multiple benefits for the speaker and the listener: awareness and acknowledgment, remembering and recognition, courage and change. A shared narrative means the distinction of black and white strokes of judgment find the haziness of shades of gray; the past has a new filter that reshapes those black and white images. Lingering there with the story ignites flames of humility and generates a warmth that could not have existed before. It empowers the understanding that each of us is more than the worst thing we have ever done and far less than the best thing we have ever done. Stories of lives lived assure us that being human is complicated, events and contexts shape circumstances beyond control and yet there is a precious fragility to be understood, embraced and strengthened by mutual acceptance and the tokens of love that life can offer.
Slipping through the narrow gate is something to strive for. Illusions that we live on one side or the other are simply that. Everyday, human beings have the chance to walk through that gate. Somedays we will find the unfolding of a holy moment in a random conversation; other times, hours of frustration and aggravation will crowd every rational thought to the edge of sanity. The point for the Christian is to continue striving for the narrow gate with full grasp of how challenging that really is, and the sense that the striving is actually what matters. Failing is okay; succeeding is to be treasured. Learning someone’s story is not about judging, condemning or undermining other, but about recognizing flaws and foibles, weaknesses and brokenness and still seeing, accepting one another. It is about getting past who we are to really see and know another. There are dreamers and visionaries who walk among us, hard workers and first responders, deeply needy and overwhelmingly talented persons. There are the selfish and narcissistic, the giving and the crowd pleasers, the humble and the hurried. All human. All complicated. All alone until the narrow gate is passed through.