Everyone Has A Story

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Keeping It Real With Teri Netterville

“Everybody has a story, guys. Remember that. Everybody.” Dad would remind us of this truth many times throughout our childhood.  While in the check-out lane at the grocery store, I noticed that the grocery clerk had a poor attitude. I was around 8 or 9 years old at the time and I noticed things like this.  She wouldn’t smile at me when I smiled at her.  She wouldn’t giggle when Dad tried to be funny and she seemed almost frustrated that we chose her lane to check out in. In my young mind, anyone with that attitude should be fired.  So, as we headed to the car, I smugly chided to my father that the clerk who checked us out didn’t deserve that job. She should be fired.

I felt very pious in my assessment about that clerk …until we got in the car.  After the groceries were loaded, Dad sat in the driver’s seat and put the keys in the ignition.  But before he started the engine,  he turned to look at me straight in my eyes.  He said, “Teri, we don’t know her story.  She might just be having a bad day.  Maybe she has sick kids at home and she’s having a hard time focusing on customers because her heart and head are with her sick kids.  Or maybe she received some terribly sad news right before she came to work and she can’t get it out of her mind.  We just don’t know. So, rather than being angry at her or judging her harshly, maybe we just need to extend a little grace and simply be kind to her no matter how she treats us.” Lesson in the extension of grace learned.

As a family, the six of us were traveling on vacation when my little brother spotted a disheveled, dirty-looking homeless man sitting on a corner with a sign asking passersby for money. From the backseat came total harshness from us four kids.  My brother hollered, “Ewww! Look how dirty that man is! He’s not even wearing any shoes!” The rest of us shrieked and fell into fits of laughter. Mom instantly turned around with a look of admonishment, while Dad put up his great big hand and said, “Hey, hey, hey…. Cut that out!” With great disappointment, Dad went on to teach all of us a great lesson in compassion.

He said, “What if I told you guys that the homeless man back there was actually a former war hero who got injured while protecting our country.  Let’s say he came back home and because of his disability, no one will hire him.  Maybe his wife left him and took his children and now he lives on the streets wondering how he will eat each day.” We four kids were devastated at the idea of that and began to feel great shame wash over us. Mom interjected, “We don’t really know his story, but what Daddy is trying to help you understand is that you guys should never make fun or judge someone for the life they are living.” Dad reiterated with, “Guys, I’ve said this to you before: Everyone has a story.  You just do not know what another person has been through to make them act the way they act or live the way they live.” In stunned and shamed silence, we all just sat there quietly not knowing what to say. Dad continued, “There was a time when that man was a little kid, himself, just like you guys.  I guarantee you he had big hopes and dreams for his future just like y’all do and I’m willing to bet he never in a million years imagined that he would grow up only to sit on a corner begging for help to get him through the day. Your job is not to judge him.  Your job is to simply be kind to him. Pray for him.” Lesson in compassion learned. 

“Life is not a long journey, but a constant learning process.  And the most important lesson in life is learning to love.” ~Anurag Prakast Ray

The lessons of my childhood are plenty and they usually come flooding to the forefront of my mind when I need to remember them the most. When going through a personal struggle years ago, I felt my despondent spirit filling up with great despair.  I was doing what most of us do when going through a rough patch; I put on my happy face. I put one foot in front of the other and then pretended that life was just peachy to the outside world. On the inside, however, I was dying.  I was so sad and so worried that things would never be the way I had always pictured them to be at that point in my life. As he always did, Dad saw right through my smiley façade.  As the two of us watched my kids play outside, he put his big arm around my shoulders and pulled me in for a tight side hug.  I looked at him and half-smiled.  He smiled his dimpled smile back and said, “I don’t know what is going on in your world right now, but I do know you’re going to get through it.  AND, I know how your story ends. …and baby girl, it’s going to be grand.  Just get through these hard parts the best you can.” My eyes welled up with tears, “Oh Dad don’t make me cry in front of my kids.”“Look,” he said. “I don’t mean to make you cry.  I just want you to trust this part of your life story.  Whether you are going through good, bad or confusing times, your story is unfolding in the way that it was intended to unfold all along.  So, embrace it.  Feel it.  Accept it. And even love it.”

“Dad, it’s kind of hard to love this part of it. It’s not so fun right now.” “Well, baby,” he said, eyeing me with a sideways grin. “What choice do ya have?” I smiled shyly knowing the truth in his words. He continued, “Hey, remember how I used to tell you guys that everybody has a story?” I nodded, “Yes. I remember, Dad.” “Well,” he paused, “It’s true.  And so do you.” “I know. I know.” I chided, echoing what he had told us our entire lives.  “Everybody has a story. Some chapters are full of great fun, while others are full of great pain, but all of them worth the ride, because ultimately it all leads you to your divine purpose and ultimate greatness in this world.” He threw his head back and laughed, which made me giggle, too. “Look,” he said, while staring out at his grandchildren playing,  “Our ONLY job is to simply live our lives the best way we know how. …Annnnd to also teach our children to do the very same. “Trust your journey, Teri.”

Noticing the tears welling up in my eyes, Dad had one last piece of advice, “Whatever you are going through right now, don’t be afraid to feel it.  I promise you’ll get through it.  And not only will you get through it, you’ll come out of it on the other side stronger and wiser than you were before.  That’s worth something, isn’t it?” I nodded as the tears fell. He brought me into his chest for a big daddy hug.  Then he pulled back and smiled mischievously  “But hey, if I need to hurt somebody, you just say the word.” We both fell into laughter and my worries and tears fell to the ground and took my burdens with them. 

Everybody has a story. What a concept. Think about it, we all believe the way we believe and feel the way we feel based on our own life experiences, circumstances, what we’ve read, listened to, witnessed, and who we’ve chosen to associate with.  All of these many parts are meant to strengthen our spiritual muscles, sharpen our spirits and eventually propel us to our ultimate greatness in this world. So, if we believe this about ourselves, then we must trust and believe this in others. We must begin to appreciate and place value in those life stories that are different from our own. Those are the stories that stretch our hearts and open our minds, helping us become better versions of ourselves. We learn and begin to place value in the extension of grace, the beauty of compassion, the gift of empathy and understanding …and the preciousness of love in our lives. All of it matters. All of it leads you to your greatest destiny… your divine purpose for this world. During this Valentine season of love, take some time to love yourself…Embrace your journey….And keep your story real.