When I’m around people I often find myself wondering why, what and how. Why are they doing what they doing? What are they thinking? How did they get to this point in their life? What’s their story?
Last week we attended a wedding in the village for the niece of a friend. On the surface it was a joyous occasion, full of laughter and dancing. Family coming around to celebrate a new couple, new potential. As a family ourselves, we too greatly enjoyed the occasion. An opportunity to socialise as a family, the kids played around the village, lots of conversations went back and forth and round and round.
But throughout the afternoon and into the night, I found myself wondering about the bride. Why was she getting married now? What was she thinking and feeling about this day? How did she get to this point?
I knew part of the story and it wasn’t children’s reading. The bride was in a relationship with her father that had resulted in a child. This baby, of course, made the relationship somewhat public, whispered around the village. The baby then had died before it’s first birthday, prompting rumours of poisoning or curses and witchcraft. It seemed that many were of the opinion the death of the baby was ‘for the best’. How heartbreakingly sad. The last we’d personally heard of her was at the time of the baby’s funeral. Some months later our friend invites us to this wedding. His niece, this niece, is now getting married to a man from a nearby village.
So I spent the wedding wondering. I wondered why during the ceremony the Imam asked them if they’d had relations with anyone else – everyone there knew she had birthed a child. I wondered about her father sitting silently next to Scott, what was he thinking, what was his story? I watched and wondered how her mother felt about the whole thing. I wondered if the groom knew and how or if it shaped his view of his in-laws. Mostly I wondered about her, the bride. I wondered how she was feeling, hidden away under a cloth where no one could see her face. As we danced around her did she experience joy or wish we would just stop. I wondered if she was excited at the future, hopeful, feeling resigned or even despairing inside. I wondered what her story, from her lips, would be.
I’ve heard more of her story from others in the days since the wedding. I’ve heard her father arranged the match with a man from a nearby village that people seem to barely know. I’ve heard that she’s happy enough with the groom and being married. I’ve heard the man’s family paid the bride’s mother what’s considered a pretty high bride price.
But I want to hear her story, from her. See I know that my assumptions and wonderings are from my perspective, my worldview, my experiences. I know the questions I ask are shaped by my reality. And I want more than that. I want to hear her heart, her joys and fears, her journey, as she wants to tell it. I want to to know this woman. I want to be invited into part of her story.
And she’s not the only one. As I look around me, life is filled with people who have a story. The man building a wall for Scott, the women who walk past our house to collect firewood. Friends, neighbours. Colleagues, supporters in Australia. We each have a story that’s unique to us, influencing and moulding us in ways unseen.
I find myself doing this more and more. Sitting back, watching, listening and wondering. Asking questions. I don’t know if it’s getting older and feeling more reflective about my own thoughts and feelings, or just that I’m becoming more and more aware of all the myriad of (largely invisible) factors that interact in our lives to shape us. And how little of that we know and see when we judge the surface.
I want to be a collector of stories, not so I have a collection of good stories to share, but so I can really know people. I want to take the time to sit and listen, to be a trustworthy recipient of people’s hearts. I want to get beyond the surface and really understand. I know I have a long way to go in this (I don’t think I’ve done this well in the past at all), but it’s something I’m more and more committed to doing well. Listening with my whole being. Making the effort to really hear and know people.
We all have a story. If you see me sitting back looking at you I may just be wondering…
– What’s your story?