True story

There is someone sitting not far from you today as you read this, wherever you are, wherever you will be today.

He or she is your neighbor, or a stranger, and if you’re like me, you wonder what their story is. So you ask a few questions. You make a little chit-chat. You talk about the weather. You get blindsided.

I had every intention of filing a column for you to read today. I had conducted the interview, was all set to put on the village storyteller hat and say, “Step right up and read a tale so harrowing and redemptive it will make you stop and smell the crickets, count your mixed blessings, feel the burn of life and how to live it in a way that only the truly awake do.”

Sorry, not today. No details today. Her story is unnerving and ultimately uplifting but you will need to go elsewhere for your daily survivor fix because you will not hear it from me. She doesn’t want me to tell it, because it is the kind of story that, if you’re the one who has lived it, is put away in a box and put on a shelf where no one can ever get to it.

She told me her story over the course of a couple months. She is a loner by design, and by the damage she incurred by some terrible people and some terrible things that happened to her a long time ago. I told her I wanted to write about her. She agreed. One day I met her in a park, which is where she’s most comfortable, surrounded by a lot of people and dogs, which are her favorite creatures; certainly not humans. She works with the elderly and infirm. They and her dogs saved her life.

That much I can tell you, but that is all. We sat for an hour or so, me with my tape recorder and she with her past. She stared straight ahead and talked. I asked questions, she answered. Afterward, we both got quiet. Then some laughs. Then some chit-chat. Then there I was, legs wobbling as I walked from the park, wondering yet again how people can treat each other so horribly, how you can look around on a beautiful summer day thinking that everyone is on the same sunshiney page but the fact is you have no idea what someone has survived or what demons visit, even in the sunshine.

An hour after I got home, I got a phone call from her. She ordered me to erase the tape — which I immediately said I would, to the chagrin of every editor and a few journalism professors I’ve had. No matter. Here’s the nut paragraph: Not everybody wants their story told, not everyone is pimping their story to the big publishing houses downtown, not everyone is blogging every last detail of their existence.

Some people just want to be left alone. Some people’s pain is so deep, and therefore their joy so simple, words can’t explain it to the rest of us. Some people move through life like they’re swimming through molasses. Some people have scars bigger than newspapers. Some people remind you of what Henry James said:

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.