The 11 strangers began by sharing where they were from and an interesting fact about themselves. At the end of five days, after hours together in the van or in pairs on the river, they slowly revealed more. The conversations became more personal. I overheard snatches that ran together, creating a new narrative:
“My parents escaped from the Soviet Union and went to Iran. When the Iranian Revolution began, they, my brothers and our cat got out in the nick of time, crossing China and living on a boat on the Mekong River where our cat got sick. A Catholic relief agency sponsored them, and they settled in Minnesota where they raised monarch butterflies and had a lollipop business. After selling the business, my father got a job at Stanford and my mother raised money for the Veterinary School. After I was born, they moved to Colorado and Tennessee before settling in North Carolina, where they now live and plan to write a book about their experiences.”
The parts are true; the whole isn’t.
It’s human nature to want to make sense of our world, and we often do so by filling in gaps or interpreting events through the lens of own experiences. However, by projecting our thoughts, feelings, attitudes or interpretations, it’s easy to inadvertently create misunderstandings or false realities. A co-worker’s snappish comment could just as easily be a reaction to a day that’s not going well as it could be a sign he doesn’t like you.
As in life, fictional characters must not jump to conclusions. Janelle must be careful to analyze the responses she receives from Paul’s friends, family and neighbors, rather than to fit them into preconceived beliefs she might not even be aware that she holds. To do so would distort her painstaking research, leading to a miscarriage of justice she is working so hard to avoid.
(If you have just come across my blog and have no idea who Janelle and Paul are, take a look at some of my earlier blogs to catch up.)