(Photo by Karen Walrond)
Yesterday, after my book reading in Houston, my friend Karen asked me, ‘Do you realize how extraordinary your story is?’
‘Honestly,’ I said, ‘no – I don’t.’
I’ve spent most of my adult life living and working with people who have stories at least as courageous as mine, and many of them make my life look tame.
I’ve worked with Palestinian human rights lawyers who spent years in Israeli prisons, Afghan women who defied their families to marry for love, and Timorese politicians who were once freedom fighters, hiding in the jungle to resist the Indonesian occupation.
I was raised on the stories of my grandparents who ran a guesthouse for missionaries in Nigeria, my great-grandparents who were missionaries in Papua New Guinea, and my great-great grandparents who travelled by ship to New Zealand from Sweden, Denmark, Scotland and Ireland – with no idea what they would find when they got there.
I’ve heard my parents tell stories of visiting prisons all over the world, and of the prisoners they met there – gang leaders who now offer legal services to other prisoners, poets detained for challenging the status quo, and women raising their children in prison. My father once watched the young children of female prisoners in Brazil while, dressed as penguins, they sang to entertain their mothers.
Compared to the people I’ve known, lived and worked with all my life – my story is not particularly extraordinary. But at some point I decided to no longer believe the voice in my head that told me my story wasn’t important enough, that no-one would want to hear it. At some point I decided the fact that other people had done braver things than me – suffered more, survived more, achieved more – didn’t make what I had seen and done and learned less valuable.
The things I’ve seen and done are not unique – at my book event in New York last week there were at three people in the room who were with me in Afghanistan, and two who had just returned from Sudan. But my story is unique.
Our stories are how we make sense of the world.
Stories are how we come to new understandings about each other, how we change our view of the world, how we teach, and how we learn. Each of us carries stories. Stories we’ve inherited from our ancestors. Stories we’ve been given by others. Stories we’ve gathered ourselves along the way.
Your stories are powerful. Your stories have the potential to help us see ourselves, each other and the future in a new and beautiful light.
Do you realise how extraordinary your story is?
(Photo by Karen Walrond)