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There are stories about princesses, enchanted castles, historical heroes, and far away lands. These are the kinds of stories that we listened to as young children. They made us giggle, imagine, and listen intently. But some stories are different. They aren’t made-up tales of glory and magic and happily-ever-after. They’re stories of real people, real journeys, and real suffering. Ever since I was a little girl, people have told me stories.
I have always been more affected by stories than the average person. When I heard the story of Noah’s Ark for the first time, as a little girl, I sat and cried. It didn’t seem right to me that God would let so many people die, wicked or not. Years later, I flipped through the worn pages of a Grimm’s fairy tales book. I was equally consumed by the story of the poor goose girl, whose betraying best friend was punished graphically -- her naked body placed inside a barrel with nails driven inside. She was dragged along the streets by a horse and carriage to warn the world of the consequences of wickedness. I was utterly disgusted, and I never picked up the book again. I always received reactions from classmates and peers, who would ask,
“Why do you care? It didn’t happen to you!”
Or, “It’s just pretend. Get over it.”
But I couldn’t.
When I got older, the stories changed to a different kind. No longer could I attempt to laugh them off, and say, “They’re just pretend” -- because they weren’t. When I learned of the Holocaust victims, persecuted simply because of their religion, I was shocked. The pain that mankind would cause one another, willingly, was appalling. I realized that the horrible treatment that the Jewish people received, was really no different from what took place at school every single day: the same bitter, ignorant hatred.
This was how I first befriended a socially ostracized boy. He was sent texts daily, telling him to kill himself -- telling him that no one loved him. He believed them. What else was there to do, when he was so alone? One day, he asked me to proofread a letter. When I unfolded it, I felt a searing pain in my heart. It was a goodbye letter to his parents.
“You have done nothing wrong,” he stated. “You didn’t deserve a son like me.” What could be the cause of this cruel treatment? Why would he feel the need to take his own life?
He was gay.
I didn’t care about the political or religious views of it all. I knew that there was absolutely no excuse for any soul on this planet to feel such pain and self-loathing. None.
Through the years, I have heard many stories -- stories of abusive fathers, of cutting, of drugs, of death, of self-hatred, and of losing all hope. At first, they were a burden. I began to feel weighed down, and to despair. Was there any good left in the world? Did people have no compassion anymore? Was putting yourself in another’s shoes unheard of? I would lock myself in the bathroom stalls and cry for a pain that wasn’t mine. But I guess in a way it was, because I felt so deeply for other people’s experiences.
Then, one day, I sat in class. I was twirling my pencil, my mind in another world. The boy who I had befriended, spoke.
“I’m moving,” he said. “I want to tell you that I’m grateful. I’m grateful that you had to courage to be my friend when no one else would. You are pretty and popular, but you are the most Christlike person I know.”
Never have I received a compliment that came even close to that one.
People still tell me their stories. I hear stories about loss, anguish, and anger. The darkness appears to be all-consuming, but it doesn’t weigh me down anymore. Instead, I feel honored to hold peoples’ stories and secrets. I am grateful for my gift -- the gift to feel what others feel. Feeling leads to understanding, understanding leads to sympathizing, sympathizing leads to taking action, and by taking action, we can change the world.