Saturday, January 3, 2009

What Story Do You Live By?

Each of us lives by stories - those told to us and about us by family members, those we have about ourselves that no one knows but us, stories friends tell about us, etc. But generally there is an overriding story to our lives, the theological story - Judaism, Christianity, Islam, agnosticism, atheism - the story that creates a sense of order in our lives, that helps us understand who we are in the face of the universe and eternity.

As an American my story includes a belief in democracy and individuality. As a black person born in 1939 my story includes growing up under racial segregation in the south, which inflicted wounds that still throb. But being born in 1939 I came of age at the dawn of the 1960s, and my involvement in the civil rights movement and the anti-Vietnam war movement are important elements of my story. But nothing in my story enables me to understand the story in the lives of the people in this item from Saturday's New York Times:

"Criminals believed to be linked to witch doctors killed an 8-year-old albino boy in eastern Burundi and took two of his arms and a leg, a rights group and an official said Friday. Killings of albinos, whom many central Africans believe to have magical powers, have increased in the past year to support a growing trade in albino body parts. Three men with machetes attacked the boy in Cankuzo Province, said Kassim Kazungu, head of Burundi’s Albinos Association. The killing, which occurred Thursday, was confirmed by a prosecutor in the neighboring province. Mr. Kazungu said six albinos had been killed in Burundi since last September, while a seventh is missing. Smugglers in Burundi are believed to take albinos’ organs and limbs to Tanzania, where witch doctors use them for charms. In Tanzania, at least 35 albinos, mostly women and children, were killed in 2008, according to the Tanzania Albino Society."

The thing about stories is that not all of them are good. And, all too often the stories we have about others - Burundis about albinos, Arabs about Israelis, Israelis about Arabs - end with the deaths of those whom we demonize in our stories.

We need to start telling new stories.

© 2009 by Julius Lester

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