Last fall I spoke at a college campus about writing memoir and about what the verse, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted," means to me. Recently, a student who bought Rare Bird during that visit reached out to me. He had started reading the book over summer vacation. As he sat on a beautiful perch above the Hudson River, he read the part about how blue jays have been a sign to my family that we are not alone in our brokenness, and that there is more to life than what we experience here on earth. Blue Jays, our son's interest in birds, and the assurance that our "rare bird" is more than okay in heaven, led to the title of my book. The young man shared that at the moment he read that part, a blue jay swooped down in front of him, reminding him that he is not alone in his struggles either. Had he not just read that passage, he may not have paid much attention to the bird at all. Part of my story became his story.
I know my story of child loss isn't pretty-- one takes a chance by stepping into it, as that young man did. As you, my dear friends, do when you visit me here.
It is scary and ugly, but I'm glad to share it as a way to link me to you, human to human. And in this case, it somehow gave encouragement to someone I've never met.
Sharing stories can inspire, encourage, elicit understanding, incite action, or even make us feel ill.
We can shut down and say we don't want to hear about the hard stuff any more-- the ugly stuff in our neighborhoods, our country, and our world. We can cover our ears and think, "Nope. Only that which applies to MY FAMILY and MY STORY is important." We can be in denial and refuse to acknowledge pain, racism, and injustice if it doesn't touch us personally.
It's a luxury to be able to live that way, complacently putting our trust in the walls that separate our experience from others, but I don't think that's how we are supposed to exist. Your pain should be my pain, your story, my story.
One aspect of the verse, "The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit" is that sometimes WE are the way that closeness and help comes, from being called to seek justice and mercy and step into each other's lives, in letting God use us in love. We do the absolute opposite when we choose to ignore, refuse to acknowledge reality, and run away from each other's stories. We can be lulled into thinking we aren't part of the problem, even as our silence makes us complicit.