“Every moment happens twice, inside and outside, and they are very different histories.” Zadie Smith
Decades ago, when I was studying the who-what-when-where-why’s of journalism, we used to talk about getting the “inside story.” By this we meant the real story told by primary sources – people who experienced or witnessed the events first-hand.
Today I think of the “inside story” a little differently. It reminds me of the stories we each carry inside – stories told by our hearts and bodies as primary sources witnessing events from the vantage of identity at the intersection of who we are and who we are called to be. These stories, like the other “inside stories” can be hard to access. In both cases, their primary sources might be eager to speak but are often well guarded.
I notice this myself in the simple daily task of opening the morning newspaper. Because, in truth, when scanning the front page each morning, the heartbreak can be devastating. So I sometimes guard my heart by telling myself, whether intentionally or unconsciously, that the stories of pain and anger, of loss and need are somehow separate from me. That I can go through the day believing I don’t need to think about the suffering of the Rohingya, or the grief of those who have lost loved ones to violence, or the thirst of those without access to clean water.
And then, as happened this week, there are days when the headlines pretty much leap from the page to insist it is otherwise. “FARAWAY HEARTACHE STRIKES NERVE WITH KAREN,” shouted the front page headline from my newspaper on Monday. How could I not read it? The article, of course, was not about me or any other individual named Karen but about the Karen people who are refugees in Minnesota and whose own experience of persecution and flight now awakens heartaching memories and connection as they learn of the plight of the Rohingya fleeing Myanmar. But the irony of the headline’s wording jolts me into realizing, the article is about me too. It’s about all of us. Interconnected as we are, the heartaches of the world’s brokenness – far away and just around the corner – reverberate in our own inner stories, whether we are paying attention or not. We deny this truth at our own peril.
This is not to say that we can, any of us, take all of it in on any given day nor that we can respond to any more than a handful of stories about others, or maybe even just one story. But it does mean that we are challenged, one might say called, to keep our inside stories in touch with the outside stories of the world and to pay attention to how one affects the other. To let these inside and outside stories correspond with each other in ways that might keep our hearts broken open in compassion. To let them inform one another in ways that encourage us to speak and listen from the heart. To remember that no single source, primary or otherwise, can tell the whole story, that stories are made of windows (even the ones about walls) and that multiple vantage points are made possible by even a single window open to multiple witnesses – and that bringing these multiple witnesses into conversation with one another is the best shot we have at finding and sharing a story of wholeness.
The outside stories of our times are indeed heartbreaking, discouraging and sometimes even frightening. But this will not change unless we allow those stories to impact the inside stories of our hearts, and vice versa. The larger tragedy comes not from the facts of the stories in the news but from the possibility that we will not engage them with our inside stories deeply enough to create conditions ripe for change. Only when we bring our inside and outside stories into conversation with each other will we be able to together imagine and write new stories of the way we long for the world to be.
What is the inside story you are carrying today — the truth of your emotions, the grief or hope, the fear or compassion pocketed in your body — and how is this story both changing and changed by the outside stories of our time? Open a newspaper or a newsfeed on-line, and choose just one story. Try to take it in with your heart open. Ask yourself, when this story meets the truth of the story I carry within, how might I join others in writing new stories of hope and change — inside and outside? How might I keep this conversation between inner and outer stories alive in ways that lean toward hope and that lead toward change?