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Real People. Real Lives. Real Stories.
- September 25, 2015
- Brandy Campbell
I have a lot of titles. I am a writer. A listener. An observer.
But the title that sums me up most succinctly is storyteller. At least a dozen times a day, stories are triggered in my mind. I drive past the coffeeshop where I went on that hilariously terrible date. I see a stain on a shirt and can remember the moment I dripped that chocolate syrup. Friends will randomly throw up words and see if I can come up with a story about them. Usually I can.
This summer, I went on several story-gathering trips for my job. My job was to experience the stories of people in poverty, and bring them home to share with those who need a face to attach to the ambiguous idea of the developing world. It was a dream come true. But I learned something very important. Something I want to share with you.
People are not props. Their stories do not exist for our entertainment.
I was sitting in the hard-packed yard of a young mother. I was perched on her only chair. She sat on an overturned bucket. She held her tiny baby, and I saw the stains on her shirt, knew that she needed to feed her baby.
I’ll be honest. The interview wasn’t going well. She wasn’t giving me the answers I needed. The squawking baby in her arms was messing with the audio. She wasn’t articulate. She was tired and scared and overwhelmed.
And I was annoyed.
I am not proud of that. I am actually quite ashamed. Because when we finally turned off the camera, when she finally nursed her child, it hit me with such force that I had to walk around the side of the house to collect myself.
I had been handed the precious gift of this mother’s story. And I had been careless with it. Sloppy. I tried to shove it into the outline in my head, and had crumpled the edges.
When people hand us their stories, it is a gift. A privilege. An honor. We need to handle them with delicacy.
It’s not just the story of a mother in El Salvador.
It’s the stories your children give you. Your spouse.
The story of a co-worker or a friend.
A stranger on the street.
After I collected myself, I walked over to the mother and her baby. She looked worried that I was going to ask her more questions. But instead, I simply asked if I could hug her. To repair a little of the damage caused by my carelessness.
After we hugged, after I touched the top of her baby’s silken head, I looked her in the eye.
“Thank you for sharing your story.”