by Msgr. Steven Ferrari
In his captivating and energetic new book “The Written World: The Power of Stories to Shape People, History, Civilization,” the Harvard University professor Martin Puchner writes: “The impulse to tell stories… is so fundamental that it is as if this impulse is biologically rooted in our species. Anyone you meet on the street harbors a story, often full of marvels and coincidences; a beggar may have been born a king, and even a simple porter may have something to tell: Everyone is a story.”
As a priest, I have found that people are often eager to tell their story, to be listened to, to ‘reveal’ themselves to someone they trust.
I spent the last week of January visiting friends and birding in southern Florida. Having trouble with the rental car midway through the week, I brought it to the nearest franchise to try to exchange it for another.
We were driving down to Key West that morning, so I arrived before the office’s 8 a.m. opening. When Roger arrived to attend to me, he noticed some damage to the back passenger side – damage not done by any accident I had been involved in, for certain.
Perhaps I had picked up the car at the airport that way, or the damage occurred in a lot where I had parked it?
I needed to fill out an accident report, he coolly informed me.
“Here are the forms, Mr. Ferrari,” he said. Well, I said, it’s actually “Rev.” Ferrari. His whole attitude changed before my very eyes. He told me his story. He had an uncle a Franciscan Friar; a recently deceased beloved aunt had been a nun for more than 50 years. He himself had been altar boy in his native Haiti.
He remarked how much he respected and admired priests and religious.
On his smart phone he even showed me his First Communion photo, dressed in the same kind of white suit with short pants that I myself had worn in the 1950s for my special day. I saw photos of his aunt, the religious sister, and of his mother.
Finishing the transaction of exchanging cars, I asked him how long of a drive it was to Key West from the office. To my surprise, he asked the question of his phone. A woman’s voice answered, “178 miles by car or 140 miles as the crow flies.”
How did this disembodied voice know that I was an avid birder?!
I held up my binoculars to show him – never leave home without them.
Before driving away I thanked Roger, not only for the different vehicle, but also for sharing some of his story with me.
Everyone has a story – where they come from, what has made them who they are, what their memories, their hopes and dreams are all about.
We just need to listen.
Msgr. Ferrari is the pastor of St. Teresa’s parish, Woodside.