Here is a wonderful and true story: A friend of mine, a visual artist, until recently worked at a charitable organization that was slowly dying due to the recession. My friend, let us call her Z., worked mostly with the Hispanic p0pulation, trying to help them navigate various social agencies, food banks, legal aid agencies. I’d often dropped by to visit her, and find her with a child on her lap, speaking to the mother in fluent Spanish, or helping a troubled teenage boy calm down by doing collages with him. Even as the agency’s funds dried up, my friend, who has no margin for error in her own slim finances, would often open her own wallet and give what little she had. She didn’t do it every time, but if she felt the person’s plight was truly awful, she explained that she did it to live with herself.
One day a young man wandered in. He’d had to drop out of school, he had no money, hadn’t eaten in a while, and couldn’t find a job, although he’d been looking. My friend gave what information she could, but she noticed a certain dullness in his eyes and recognized it for what it was–the dying of hope. She opened her wallet and gave him a twenty and he thanked her and left.
Not long afterwards, Z. was laid off from the organization. She went into a funk, hibernated and licked her wounds, then turned to the thing she knew would help her find her way. She got her paintings down from the attic, began to look at them again, began doing some new work. In the spaciousness of the her new days, she found herself making art. She’d applied for jobs, but none came through. Still, it wasn’t as if she had nothing….she began to slowly envision her self as a working artist. It was as if the Universe had conspired to get her back to her true work.
Still, one has to eat. She was downtown one afternoon and poked her head into a little Italian restaurant. It was close to the end of lunch service, and she was the only one in the restaurant. A young man came over to take her order. They looked at each other and she recognized the young man she’d given a twenty to. He said, “I know you,” and she smiled and acknowledged it, not wanting to embarrass him by reminding him of how they had met. Far from it, the boy was eager to chat. The day she had given him the twenty, he had been at a low ebb. But he had gotten something to eat, then applied for this job at the restaurant and gotten it. She was delighted to know how the story had turned out; so many of the people she had helped simply disappeared.
She visits the young man often now, and the irony of their switched places isn’t lost on her. She’s become friends with the owner, who wants her to hang her paintings in the restaurant. “Was it random chance or something else that led me there?” she asks. At any rate, it was a fortunate and happy accident.
“The moment I heard my first story/I started looking for you…” Rumi writes. We are our stories. We not only understand our world through story, but we make our worlds through stories. We tell, we receive, we stand in amazement and awe at the gift of story. Our hearts wither for lack of good stories.
Dear reader, I wish you a storied world.