In the wake of Anthony Bourdain’s death, Brené Brown very wisely stated the following, “Everyone has a story that will break your heart. And, if you’re really paying attention, most people have a story that will bring you to your knees.” Even though I’ve been saying the same thing for years, I’ll let Brené Brown take credit.
If you haven’t read much of Brené’s work or seen her TedTalk, she’s highly recommended. I think she would fit right in with the CVV crew. She manages to verbalize what for me are many intangible values and ideas that I have tried very hard to cultivate and reinforce. Things that I am very proud to say are an inherent and a core part of who I am. Empathy. Vulnerability. Dignity. Justice. Brené offers an important voice of reflection, which manages to make us question seemingly little things that are actually quite significant, and for that opportunity to pause and reflect, I am grateful. It takes those opportunities to pause, critique, and change in order for us to grow into better versions of ourselves.
I want to go back to the original statement. “Everyone has a story that will break your heart. And, if you’re really paying attention, most people have a story that will bring you to your knees.” One of the aspects of social justice work that I am very passionate about is acknowledging that everyone has their own story. People are fascinating, and in the almost 10 years since embarking on the CVV journey, I have had the privilege of accompanying many people on their journeys in various capacities. Regardless of what you might see on the outside, everyone has their own internal scars and their own internal badges of honor. People are complex, and with that complexity comes rich memories of tears, sighs, pride, bliss, love, heartbreak, betrayal, laughter, understanding, loneliness, hope. We can all recall these and other life-changing memories of our own.
We yearn for connection, but we often are too shy or embarrassed to ask for it. One of the wonderful aspects of CVV was putting ourselves out there and being vulnerable around each other. It’s why when I chat with one of my fellow companions, the ability to dive deep into an extremely intimate conversation is easy and comforting.
In the various roles I play in people’s lives, I find that one of the most important things I can do for others is acknowledge and validate the complexity of their experiences and do my best to try to (as Brené says) “feel with them,” though I know I will never understand what they are feeling in the same way. Recently, I’ve found that suicide and depression is all around me. It’s a quiet, gradual mist that is at once hard to notice and easy to ignore. Though these stories are uncomfortable to face, I hope to continue listening empathetically to others’ stories. Be in the moment when others are expressing their complexities. Acknowledging their highs as well as their lows, and understanding my role—both it’s opportunities and limitations. There’s so much that people need, and so much of it is simply feeling a connection with a genuine, empathetic heart. Hearing of stories, like Anthony Bourdain’s can be shocking, and can create a sense of helplessness. Let’s also remember that just like him, many others around us are looking for a connection and want to share their stories. Be there with them. Feel with them. And maybe we can contribute just a little bit to making things a little bit better for those around us.