Yet, I think people are touched not by numbers and concepts but by personal stories. When we put a human face to the suffering, we are more able to place ourselves in the other's shoes. Your heart is more likely to go out to the child who lost his parents in a bombing than upon hearing a high number of people who died in an attack.
Before I entered the Society, one of the Jesuits I had a great deal of admiration for was Fr. Gary Smith. I knew of him through his book Radical Compassion, in which he journals the time he spent with the poor and the homeless on the streets of Portland. What I loved about his writing was that he was real; he told stories as he witnessed them.
When I was in the midst of my 30 day silent retreat as a first year novice, I remember reading his book again during the 3rd week of the Exercises. There was one particular story I remember reading--it was his story about the Leper. The Leper, in this case, suffered from AIDS. I remember lying in bed in tears as I read through that story again. Gary told and reflected on his experience of walking with this man as his health continued to diminish. Yet, by the end of that story, my tears were genuine--his story touched my heart at the deepest level. In a different world, the story of the leper may have been my own story.
Last year, Gary came out with a new book: They Come Back Singing- Finding God with the Refugees. His very first paragraph reads:
"This is not a book about Africa. It is about my years in Africa with Sudanese refugees. It is not a sociological study of refugees; it is a portrait of refugee hearts. It is not a book about what I gave to the refugees, but a book about what they gave to me. It is not a theology of mission, but a story of mission."
I do not think we should underscore the importance of story and narrative in addressing the problems of the world. It allows the ability to connect with our brothers and sisters around the world in ways that would not be possible otherwise. We are then not simply talking about "the homeless" or "the poor". We are talking about real people with real stories.
All of us have a story. But, we are not simply part of our own story--we partake in each other's stories.
What is your role? How do you hope to shape the story?