When I was a PA student, Emory organized clinical rotations for us during our second year. For those of us who'd agreed to go back and practice in a rural part of the state, many of our rotations were in the boonies, aka the middle of nowhere. This meant tiny towns miles from dorms, hotels, or Airbnb. The resourceful coordinator got the idea to have students board with single old ladies. I did this for three different rotations. One of them was in Colquitt, GA, an hour from a town or a Mexican restaurant. The only commerce happening in Colquitt was at a Dollar General or a small grocery market. There was a Hardee's and a diner. That was it.
Cotton hall, an old cotton warehouse turned theatre.
Ironically, Colquitt did have one thing going for it. A thriving art/theater community. Somehow a producer for off-broadway plays had discovered Colquitt, GA. I don't know if it was his idea or if he was recruited to help out, but the fine citizens of Colquitt had been producing the most extraordinary performance of local talent in a broad-way style show called Swamp Gravy for several years when I came. They performed in an old cotton warehouse, converted to a theater. Local artists painted murals inside and out. In fact, the whole town now has murals on old buildings and silos and grain bins.
I found out the old lady I was staying with was very involved in the production, providing late-night snacks (and drinks) for the crew. I was so impressed with the show's talent I made my husband drive down with me a year later.
The song I can still hear was, "I've got a story." This was the equivalent of the song in all Broadway shows everyone remembers, walks out singing, and can't get out of their heads. We've all got a story to tell. I remember that each local person (the cashier at Dollar General, the local cotton farmer, the third-grade teacher) would each sing their story. They'd tell a true story turned musical about their life living in rural Georgia. In the end, all of the local actors and singers would sing the "I've got a story" song together. It was magical. It also nailed home the point for me that we've all got a story.
This was on my mind as two people recently were talking about people they couldn't stand. One was saying how uneducated and small-minded this certain group of people were that he had to deal with. I found myself wondering if he'd really gotten to know any of the people. Every single person has a story. That's why podcasting and interviewing ordinary people is so appealing. I love to hear stories.
I want to hear about the morbidly obese New York apartment dweller who started walking circles inside his tiny apartment and lost 200lbs. I want to hear about the patient who had fertility struggles for years and wrote a book about it. I want to hear about the neighbor who bicycled around the world as a teen pre-WWII. I want to hear about the girl who has the chronic "RBF" and is so nasty to everyone; surely she's got a story to tell.
We all have a story. At any given time, our actions represent love or fear. Our behavior is either coming from love or fear. If someone is behaving atrociously, look for pain or fear. It's not an excuse for how they're behaving, but it might make them more human. We don't see the humanness of others. We see people as enemies if they're different than us.
There was a kid in my son's grade one year. My son couldn't pinpoint why, but he didn't like this kid, who I'll call Sam. Sam was one of those kids who seemed to purposefully do things to get the teacher riled up as well as make himself the enemy of every kid in the grade. I found out he lived in a hotel when he was lucky and a homeless shelter the rest of the time. No wonder he was acting out.
Take time this week to get curious about those around you. Start a conversation with the tattooed and pierced lady in front of you, get to know a neighbor who lets his dog poop in your yard, talk to the person at work who seems the least likely to be your type of friend. We're all connected; we're all the same.