- Troy Hatfield
Here’s an example of an interaction that’s happened a couple times the past 6 weeks:
Cashier: (after looking at my ID, with a smile) “So are you part of the feud, like on the TV show?”
Me: (straight-faced and nodding) “Yes actually. I’m a direct descendant.”
I wish you could see the looks I get when I give that answer.
It’s been interesting to see how people have responded to the History Channel’s “Hatfields & McCoys” show. In addition to the typical “Seen any McCoys lately?” stuff that I’ve heard my whole life, I am now being asked what it’s like being related to Kevin Costner (who plays the Hatfield patriarch). But the most consistent reaction I’ve heard from people is something like “I always thought that feud was fake or folklore, kind of like Paul Bunyan and that giant blue ox.”
Though there might be some outstanding questions surrounding certain details of the feud and that time period, the story is most certainly real. It’s my family’s narrative and history. It is my story.
These conversations have me thinking about the way I interact with others’ stories. I’m feeling especially sensitive about my attitude lately, centered around two things I’m trying to keep in mind.
The stories I choose to tell and believe about others involve real people. It’s easy to watch something on TV and accept the characters are entirely fictitious. In our day-to-day interactions, when we reduce someone to a small set of attributes (only angry, self-centered, opinionated, power-hungry), we are essentially ‘creating’ a fictitious character, choosing to focus on an incomplete depiction. But real people are always more than a narrow set of characteristics, isolated from experiences and circumstances.
I remember when our family’s history became very real to me – it was my first visit to the Hatfield family cemetery in southwestern West Virginia. Few things transform someone from fiction to reality like seeing a headstone and reading the birth and death dates. Standing at the foot “Devil Anse’s” grave, staring up at the huge marble statue, made all the people I had heard about growing up undeniably real.
The stories I choose to tell and believe about others are always more complicated and nuanced and layered. Wendell Berry brilliantly reminds us that “Telling a story is like reaching into a granary full of wheat and drawing out a handful. There is always more to tell than can be told.” That History Channel 3-part series tells a compelling story, but it’s not the entire story. It doesn’t get to the birth of Francis Marion Hatfield in 1897 and his eventual marriage to Melda Elizabeth Runyon in 1916 – or the birth of their seven children, including my grandfather, Hugh. It doesn’t deal with the number of Hatfield men who shared the nickname “Preacher” or the Purple Heart my grandfather earned. It ends long before showing the amount of work and sacrifice my father has made throughout his life for his three children. And yet most of the untold details more directly point to and tell my story, rather than the more popular, TV-worthy ones.
I really want to treat the stories of others better. I’m trying to avoid the temptation to reduce people to a couple of characteristics – especially since I tend to pigeon-hole people based on the qualities I like the least about them. And I’m astonished how often I have the tendency to allow a few grains of sand to define an entire beach. I need to remember I’m privy to only a few isolated episodes of most people’s lives. Those few interactions cannot possibly tell the entire story.
Troy is Lead Worship Pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, MI, where he’s been on staff since 2004. A musician, Anglophile, voracious reader and owner of more black clothing than anyone he knows, Troy has also recently married Lis, a violinist and lover of every member of the animal kingdom. Follow Troy on twitter @tr0yisbald.