Everyone has a story to tell. Life doesn’t occur in a vacuum and although the details of one’s life may seem mundane, even boring, other people don’t always share that view. Yesterday’s poem-of-the-day email from Academy of American Poets featured a sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning begins “O Dreary life!” we cry, “O dreary life!” Who among us hasn’t felt that identical fatigue?Stories energize us, convince us our personal experiences aren’t isolated … it’s comforting to know other people have felt the very same emotions as we do. A person boards a plane, train, or bus and starts a conversation that is often summed as: this is my story, this is who I am. Each aspect of one’s story sets a basis for common ground, our points of connection with one another.
Story is a primary reason I love genealogy. Certainly, the vital stats give me basic information which in turn allows me to place ancestors within their historical context. But if I can nail down specific details about an ancestor’s life and experience (say, pictures or notations from census or church records or a burial document, and especially a will or other county record), I feel like I’ve struck gold!
More than genealogy, though, my vivid imagination almost always insists on guessing the back story of total strangers! (I think I’ve admitted before, I’m nosy.)
When I was in high school, I remember sitting at the mall after shopping with my mom. We often chose a bench near the entrance so we could “people-watch” while we waited to be picked up. Invariably and for no particular reason, someone would catch our eye and we’d create fantastical details about that person’s “story” … a completely bogus narrative but harmless entertainment for the two of us!
Last week, reflecting on the details of Holy Week, I happened to read a delightful column by Andrée Seu Peterson. I’ve referred to her columns before on this blog. She’s a writer at World Magazine and her unique perspective is thought-provoking and often remarkable. Her column of last week, A Tale of Two Thieves, caught me at the first word: curmudgeons.
I won’t get into the theological aspect on which she touches (addressing purported biblical inconsistencies), because I had been contemplating the human story, two criminals whose executions occurred at the same time as Jesus was nailed to a cross. We don’t know what their crimes were … we don’t even know their names. What we know is they died in the same fashion as Jesus, and one of the two declared (as they were hanging) that “… we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” (Luke 23:41)
Even though Holy Week is over, today’s sonnet is timely. Both criminals were condemned for their unlawful acts. I think it’s safe to surmise both were stiff-necked and rebellious men. But one looked into the eyes of the Savior and he immediately recognized the depth of his sin and how it contrasted to the spotlessness of the Lamb! In that single moment – without theological credentials or so much as a single Sunday school class – the criminal moved from condemnation to Life Eternal! Yes, his body died, but as Jesus promised, “… today, you’ll be with me in Paradise.”
This is the ultimate human story: that a despicable sinner and reprobate can be saved by grace through the work Jesus did on the Cross. No matter that Holy Week is behind us, God’s grace is available every day and every moment … as the free gift of God.