There is a small shop I pass by almost each day, owned by a man in his 60s. It’s one of those shops that cuts keys, repairs shoes, and does random jobs for its customers. The shop is only about 4 metres by 2 metres, yet it is filled with all the equipment needed to meet the needs of the customers with their odd requests.
The shop has been serving its town for decades, and the owner has worked in the shop longer than I have lived. Each morning and afternoon as I pass the shop, the owner greets me by my first name, and sometimes I stop for a chat. This isn’t unusual – I’ve seen locals take the time to stop and share their joys and woes with the owner, and a purchase may or may not be made. It doesn’t matter to the owner, he happily chats away without expecting much in return.
I love listening to the owner tell me stories about the town, and all the things he’s witnessed from his 4 x 2 metres shop in his 30 years there. Over the last few months, however, his stories have changed to stories about his struggle with keeping the shop profitable in the midst of the economic downturn and competition – why repair shoes when you can buy a new pair for a fraction of the price? Although he was passionate to continue working there, it wasn’t financially sustainable for him.
So with a heavy heart, I listen to him tell me recently that he has sold his business. For a moment, I see in his eyes a real sadness in having to leave a place he was devoted to in the last 30 years. Within those eyes, I also saw fear. He tells me he was feeling the loss in leaving what he has known for the last 30 years and was feeling the fear of now jumping into the unknown of retirement. He tells me that he has been spreading the news to the locals who regularly visit him, and some were visibly upset to see him leaving. The owner, like the shop, has become a part of the town in its own humble and seemingly unimportant way.
The owner told me about how he came to buy the shop, the sacrifices he had made to maintain it, and the pride he took in it. For a moment, I was brought into his world, and the 4 x 2 metres in front of me was a whole universe of memories.
In that moment, it occurred to me that his story, and his presence, will eventually be lost. Some may have a fragment of a memory of it, but the full extent of his contribution to the town has already been forgotten.
It reminds me of the very reason why I initially took up writing. I deeply believe that each one of us has a story that is fascinating, beautiful and moving…if only we acknowledge and appreciate it. If only there is someone to tell it, and someone to hear it. Each one of us has struggled, whether internally or externally, physically or emotionally. Each of us has overcome our struggle through our persistence, our courage, and our strength. Each one of us is a hero in our own right. Sometimes we forget to give ourselves credit, but also we forget to see the story of those around us. We forget that they too are heroes, even if sometimes they play the victim or the villain. Yet when we open up and really listen to someone, we bring a part of them into our heart and affirm to them that they are just as amazing as the people we read about in books or discover in films.
So the practice for this week is to recognise any time when a friend, a family member, or even a stranger, wants to share their life story with you. Grandparents are classic examples of this. Often we simply ignore or dismiss their need to tell someone their story. And indeed, it is a need for them – they need to share their moments with someone as a way to make it real and enduring. So take the time to listen to their story, and make them the hero of their story. Their stories may inspire you, and with your affirmation of their positive qualities, their own stories may inspire themselves in return.
So…what’s your story?