I enjoy sitting and listening to people share their stories. With almost any story I’m able to grow as I take away bits of wisdom and knowledge as I process someone else’s experience. Often, It’s a good experience for the person sharing their story as they relive relationships or periods of growth or excitement. Even when the stories relate heartbreak and suffering, I’m often able to see examples of strength, hope or perseverance. Even when there isn’t a happy ending some kind, I’m given an opportunity to practice empathy and compassion.
I sat once and listened to a man share a story about being arrested at the age of 19 for attempting to buy drugs from an undercover police officer. He had been arrested several times before but this time, the concern and care shown to him by a public defender assigned randomly by the court inspired him to attempt to go to law school. At the time he was sharing his story with me he was working in the same public defenders office as the man whose care and concern had changed his life.
Another time I sat on a curb outside a liquor store at 1am and listened to an intoxicated man tell a story about an affair. When the affair came to light his wife took the kids, filed for divorce and left.Seventeen years later, here we sat. I asked when he had last seen his kids and he said it was the day his wife had left. Through feelings of anger, shame, fear and a dozen other emotions, he had chosen to let his failure define him.
A few years ago, after a very public failure on my part that cost me two years in state prison, I was walking across a Walmart parking lot and questioning my future, focusing on what I felt my mistakes had cost me when I heard someone yell, hey Ron. I turned to see a guy waving his hands and coming toward me. I recognized him as someone that had been a part of a youth program I lead before my incarceration. When I had met him he had been in trouble at school. He was being raised by a single mom who loved him with all her heart and was busting her ass to try to provide for him and his brother. He introduced me to his wife and his one year old son as the guy who had spent time with him and showed him he could make something of his life.I had encouraged him years before and now he was helping me to see that my life was more than the sum of my mistakes.
The beautiful thing about life is that we can always change, grow and get better. We aren’t defined by the sum of our failures and mistakes. We have done some things that are right and we can do more right things, if we choose to.