Remember there is a story before you judge

By Amy Hoyt, Special to the Tri-City HeraldOctober 20, 2012 

RICHLAND, Wash. -- As an interfaith minister, I hear and hold people's stories. In doing so, I've come to use the word "story" in a different way.

Our lives are the big story ever unfolding, rich with joy, angst, failure, worry, love, sadness, hope, adventure. Small singular events typically called "stories" just happen to be embedded in that much larger story.

A neighbor shared a humbling experience he had during his flight home from Boston. Exhausted and hoping to rest during the flight, he inwardly groaned as an enormous man took the seat beside him. The man was tattooed, nervous, sweating and loud-talking. My neighbor instantly cataloged judgments about what this man's appearance and behavior meant. Following the man down the aisle to their seats was a noisy troop of teens.

The ensuing hubbub became inescapable, and my neighbor was forced to close the book he had hidden behind. Begrudgingly, he engaged in conversation with his seatmate.

He learned the man was a martial arts instructor taking his students to a competition. He was terrified of flying and his students were earnestly pelting him with reassurance. The deeper story unfolding was about this man's commitment to his students. Though terrified, he endured his fear so the teens could attend their competition.

My neighbor felt like his mistaken judgments had first sucked him in, then spit him out of the jet's engines. Girth, sweat, tattoos, and loud speech suddenly mattered not as my friend was rapidly propelled from judgment to humility to profound respect.

He said, "Amy, I'll never take any situation at face value again."

Do I really know why a young man zooms past me on the highway at 90 miles per hour? Or an elderly woman creeps so slowly travel is impeded? Perhaps the man has been summoned to his child's bedside in an emergency room, or the woman just learned she has macular degeneration. There's always much more to the story than I see on the surface.

If you greet me in the grocery store today and ask how I am, I might smile, "I'm fine!" I may appear all together, but am I really? Believe me, today underneath the "I'm fine" the story of my life unfolds with great hope and great uncertainty.

We may not know the details of someone's story, but we can be sure there is one. To be alive is to be living a story.

It's just so easy to forget because we naturally judge, we get isolated by our activity and technology, or we adopt a protective response to simply feeling overcrowded in our world. In our isolation, we forget others have stories too.

When I fully honor my own story with all its passions, failures, and dreams, I have less judgment and more gentleness around what the deeper story is for you. Our shared human condition softens my isolation. Your story may not be like mine, but when I remember you have a story going on too, my heart opens.

* Amy Hoyt is the creator and owner of River Spirit Soul Care (, serving as an ordained interfaith minister in community-based chaplaincy and spiritual direction. She is a member of Shalom United Church of Christ in Richland.

Questions and comments should be directed to editor Lucy Luginbill in care of the Tri-City Herald newsroom, 333 W. Canal Drive, Kennewick, WA 99336. Or email

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