The power of story, of speaking our own truth, was experienced in dynamic and impactful ways last week as “Dear World” came to Lynchburg College. As a member of the planning committee, I had some idea of what might happen on our campus. However, I was blown away by the energy of heart, mind, and soul that transpired.
For those who may not be aware, Dear World is a facilitated process whereby individuals reflect on significant moments in their own lives then share specific details from a particularly meaningful experience with another person who in turn shares from their own life story. Afterwards, a brief sentence or phrase from the story is written somewhere on the person to evoke curiosity as a way of drawing others into dialogue and conversation. Portrait pictures are then taken and shared widely in hopes that the story-sharing momentum will continue.
Over the two days that Dear World was on campus, I was struck over and over by the power of self-disclosure when participants were offered a safe space of mutual vulnerability and respectful acceptance. I listened in awe and admiration as students shared stories of their own struggles and trauma and how they had found inner resilience and healing. I marveled at colleagues who had overcome great challenges both personal and professional and who now were dedicated to ensuring that others in similar circumstances would find empathetic support and practical assistance. Maya Angelou was right: “There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.” Courage and bravery in speaking one’s truth resulted in responses of compassion and solidarity.
As I have continued to reflect on the phenomenon of Dear World, I am reminded of the words of theologian Nelle Morton: “Hearing of this sort is equivalent to empowerment. We empower one another by hearing the other to speech. We empower the disinherited, the outsider, as we are able to hear them name in their own way their own oppression and suffering.”
While not every story that was shared dealt with pain or loss, many individuals did choose to focus on difficult circumstances and their journey to integrate loss and hurt in ways that were ultimately life-giving and transforming. And with each personal narrative that was offered, it felt like another brick in an invisible wall that separates us came down and became instead a part of a bridge to connect us.
At last count it appears that almost 700 people participated in Dear World at Lynchburg College. Members of the planning team are already exploring ways to keep the momentum going so that the deeper sense of community we have experienced will continue to grow. If you participated and appreciated the experience of Dear World, I hope you will share your enthusiasm with others and encourage them to become involved. If you are curious and want to learn more, please let me know and I’ll make sure you are included in our ongoing efforts. In this season of Thanksgiving I am grateful to leaders like Kristen Cooper who brought Dear World to campus and to all who participated. Your life stories have touched mine, and I am better because of you. I look forward to more conversations and deepening dialogues in the future.