Brian got me a Kindle for my birthday. I put it on my birthday list after realizing how much reading I will be doing in my supervisory education process and thought it best to have all the books in one place. Of course, the first moment I turned the Kindle on, I did not download books of clinical theorists. Or theologians. Or even anything work-related. I downloaded The Help by Kathryn Stockett.
A book really has to catch my attention for me to finish it, as I am not an avid reader. But friends, I could not put this book down. At any free moment in the day, I would pick up where I left off and try to read a chapter. I even found myself rebelliously staying up late with one little light on in the bedroom just so I could get a few more pages in. Even though the book is ‘fiction,’ it is portraying the life and times of Jackson, Mississippi during the 1960s, particularly focusing on the stories of ‘the help’ (black maids) being hired to work in white, wealthy households. Such emotions encompassed this book: I laughed, cried, was angered, rejoiced, got nervous, and felt relieved.
Skeeter, a white and somewhat rebellious woman of her day, worked to collect stories from the help. Towards the end of the book, she writes these unforgettable words: ‘There is so much you don’t know about a person…We are just two people. Not that much separates us. Not nearly as much as I’d thought.’ Can I get an amen?? How many times every day I am reminded that I don’t know what others are going through. Our minds sometimes tell us, “I am right and the other is wrong” or “I know the answer better than the other.” Don’t we see that all the time in politics, in religion, in the media? How wrong we are in that thinking.
I am reminded of this daily at work as I spend my days sitting with others and hearing about their journeys. One of the most beautiful things about being a chaplain for me is hearing others’ stories. Occasionally when I visit a patient, I will say to him/her, “Tell me your story.” They seem puzzled at first, looking for deeper clarification. I again simply say, “Tell me your story.” With time, piece by piece, their story will begin unraveling to me. Even in the most broken of stories, it is a beautiful thing to hear. Because our stories are who we are. I wish I could do this with every patient (the whole 1,000 beds, level 1 trauma center, 400 orders a week makes this long-time engagement complicated).
Anyways, back to the book. The other line I adore comes from Constantine, Skeeter’s maid growing up. Skeeter remembers back to the first time she was called ‘ugly.’ In response, Constantine says to her, “Every morning, until you dead in the ground, you gone have to make this decision: You gone have to ask yourself, ‘Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today?”’ What a beautiful line to remember in life. If life is about taking risks and make choices, then certainly there will be those who will not believe in you, want you to fail, or not approve of your doings. When I first felt called into ministry, I remember one of my male friends telling me on the phone, “You know you’re going against God’s will? Women can’t be ministers.” Am I gone believe what them fools say about me today? No, I am going to follow my calling: move to a new state, be in a long-distance relationship with Brian, take 93 credits, complete three years of schooling, struggle to make ends meet financially, stay up many late nights cramming for exams and writing papers, and live through dorm life again – because that is what I felt called to do so.
Even though this book is set in a particular place and time, there are so many universal truths captured in the stories of these women. As I finished the book, I realized that perhaps I was reading a book on theory…on theology…and on things that were not only related to work, but related to life. Just because it’s fiction doesn’t mean it is without truth and wisdom. What a theological concept: we are all bound together as one people in the fact that we are all in need of help. When we pretend we’ve got it all figured out, we are lying to ourselves and others can see through that. (For those who have read the book, Hilly is a wonderful reference of this).
People in all walks of life come into this hospital in need of help. Some of the patients need physical help as they suffer from hip and knee replacements, kidney stones, and terminal illnesses. Others are in need of emotional help as they try to cope with the death of a family member, learn about a new and unexpected diagnosis, or struggle to make ends meet with more children at home than there is money to feed them. Some need psychological help as they struggle to live in a society that deems them as outcasts or as ‘the other.’ Others need spiritual help as they try to figure out where God is in the midst of their child dying, their newly diagnosed cancer, or the sudden loss of a life after a traumatic event. The chaplains often come together to process the help we need in our own lives, too.
Perhaps some of you have heard the popular scripture from Romans 3:23 stating, ‘We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.’ After reading The Help, I read that scripture as another way of saying we are all in need of help. In one way or another, we could all use a little support…a little love…a little help in life. As we try to offer this help to others, let us remember the words of Skeeter, “There is so much you don’t know about a person.” But the good news is this: if we’re intentional, we might find moments in our lives when the world can stop and we can say to another, “Tell me your story.” And we’ll realize we’re just two people – and not that much separates us.