Dying to Tell Your Story: Anyone Willing to Listen?
Editor's Note: This is the first post in a series of posts titled, "The Image of God in the Drama of God."
We tend to add more weight to a person’s final words, as we assume they will be carefully selected and more meaningful than usual. So, we lean in a little closer lest we miss a final lesson or last wish, just like Horatio in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.
Kneeling next to his dying friend and prince, Horatio moves close as Hamlet concludes his final act with one last favor:
“O God, Horatio, what a wounded name,
Things standing thus unknown, shall live behind me!
If thou didst ever hold me in thy heart,
Absent thee from felicity awhile,
And in this harsh world draw thy breath in pain
To tell my story.” (5.2.322-328)
Though death creates urgency, we don’t need death to force us to tell our stories. Hamlet didn’t: he’d been trying to tell it for four acts, but (except for Horatio) no one was listening! Horatio sacrifices his time (and the telling of his story) to hear his friend’s.
We long to tell our stories. Stories capture our viewpoint and intricacies like no other form of communication.
Not that one story, or many stories, or a lifetime of stories could ever fully reveal who we are: we, as human beings, are complicated, and that is one factor that makes us stand apart from the rest of creation. Not only do we feel and think, but we choose. We act. Literature is built on people acting.
The Great Works, or the Classics, generally capture these actions best. They can present people who are princes or kings, beggars or thieves, students or salesmen, and somehow make us (the reader or viewer) feel like we know them. We may have nothing in common with them on the outside, but we identify with the questions they are asking or the fear they are experiencing or the pain they are battling.
I am neither a prince, nor from Denmark, and my uncle has never murdered my father. Yet, each time I read Hamlet, I resonate with this Danish prince; I feel that I am like him; because I too have experienced fear, betrayal, love, and, maybe, the onset of madness!
The Great Writers of history can make us feel this way, because they observe the world and pass onto us a glimpse of what it means to be human, an image-bearer. And the great news is that God has gifted us with thousands of these brilliant observers. They are the Horatios who have chosen to stop and listen to the Hamlets.
You don’t have to be one of the Great Writers to capture another’s story (none of the Great Writers started out Great). But you have to learn to escape the frantic noise of your world (just as the Great Writers did) to not just hear, but listen to your fellow image-bearers.
I don’t need death or pay or persuasion to rouse me to tell my story: no, telling my story is not the challenge, as much as it is letting others tell theirs. We don’t even need to be writers to be Horatios, we just need the character to pause, kneel, and lean in.
Don’t misunderstand me, our world needs Hamlets and Horatios, actors and observers, but I can’t help think in our frantic, noisy drama, we always need more servant-listeners on stage.