While visiting an Episcopal church recently, the priest told a riveting story from a book by Garcia Marquez called The Shipwrecked Sailor. The story is true—one of a Columbian sailor who was shipwrecked and lost at sea for ten days. Finally, his life raft drifted onto a remote beach where a man and his dog discovered the sailor.
Barely clinging to life, the sailor begged the man, “Help me.” The man stared with bewilderment but gave no response. Again, the sailor, a bit more earnest, implored him, “Help me.” Finally, the man broke his silence, and with a tone of incredulity asked, “What happened to you!?”
The man’s question bore through the sailor and pressed upon his conscious mind a need he had not fully realized. The sailor's greatest need wasn’t for food, or water, or shelter. His greatest need was the need to tell. He needed to tell….what happened to him.
I know about a pressing, agonizing need to tell. I remember feeling that urgent need after I had our first child. The experience was so awful and so wonderful; so incredibly painful and astonishingly beautiful—and nothing I could every have imagined or had ever come close to experiencing before—so I needed to tell someone! I called my friend Janet, a mother who knew what it was like to give birth and I told her, in graphic detail, what happened. I needed to tell.
There have been other times in my life when pain, betrayal, confusion, hurt, and loss were so overwhelming that I needed to tell. The only way I knew how to recover, to find my way, to survive the onslaught of anguish was to process it with another who offered his or her safe, compassionate ear.
The priest who introduced me to this story related several passages of Scripture where the psalmist needed to tell; where the prophet Isaiah needed to tell; and where Jesus needed to tell. And then he circled back around and suggested that what we often discover in our need to tell is another person’s need to hear.
I appreciate someone naming for me a phenomenon as basic to being human as the need to eat and drink—the need to tell what has happened, or is happening. I am grateful for those in my life who indulge me and listen when I need to tell. And I am hopeful that, at least on occasion, someone I tell needs to hear.