Out of Frame

written by Kat Bair
3 · 05 · 24

CW: This post contains references to gun violence and domestic violence.

I was listening to a podcast the other day about a man who was shot. The gunshot was an accident, and it happened decades ago, when he was hanging out with some friends. One of them was admiring the new weapon and it went off, going straight through his stomach. 

The man has told the story thousands of times, and in his description, in plenty of ways and for plenty of purposes: to entertain a bar, to elicit sympathy, to impress girls, to seem tough. He was telling the story on the podcast, however, for another reason – to make a connection. In his memory of the event, still vivid in the way that traumatic events can be decades later, one of the men in the room, a stranger to him, offered him great kindness and empathy in the aftermath of the accident. While his “friends” were fixated on making sure they didn’t take any blame when emergency services arrived, this stranger helped stop the bleeding and stayed with him while they waited for the ambulance. 

After decades, the man who had been shot remembered this kind stranger and wanted to thank him. That’s why he was on the show. The show used some old police reports and facebook sleuthing to track the man down. The gunshot victim thanked the kind no-longer-stranger, but when he tried to connect with the man more deeply, buy him a beer to thank him properly, the stranger said no, and stopped responding. The day had been pretty traumatic for him too, and he didn’t know this man, and he didn’t really want to spend time together. 

Fair. But unsatisfying. The gunshot victim didn’t feel the closure that he was hoping for. And then the show zoomed out a bit. From this man’s telling of the story, the story ends when he gets taken to the hospital. There is no mention of the long recovery, the horrible depression he fell into, and the havoc the accident wrought on his personal life. You see the gunshot victim had a girlfriend at the time of the accident. A girlfriend, Maggie, who happened to actually be calling his phone the moment the gun went off. A girlfriend who sped through the night to be by his side in the hospital. 

Who became his caretaker during his recovery, and its accompanying struggles. Who helped with his colostomy bag, replacing the gauze on his wound, bringing him meals, and providing for him. A girlfriend who stayed by him as his depression turned into rage, cruelty, and violence. She is the one who took care of him as he smashed the cupcakes she made him, as he threatened her, bullied her. 

When he became violent, she left, but they stayed in contact. Now, decades after the accident, after the relationship has ended, it is clear to the podcast host, to the audience, and finally to the gunshot victim himself, it is not the kind stranger who needs him to reach out and offer gratitude. It is not the man in the room who offered him a towel once who deserves this man’s admiration. It is the woman who put her whole life on hold for him, and who received nothing but cruelty in return. 

So he goes to Maggie. He thanks her. He listens as she explains that he was horrible to her. He apologizes. He means it. He tells her that it was her that saved his life, that she deserved to be treated so much better. She knows. They share a moment, the kind of connection only people that truly loved each other once can have. He tells her, “You are the hero of this story.” She is.1 

For all the times this man had told this story, he had missed its protagonist. He was seeking to thank someone who had been kind to him and picked the kind stranger, when a much more monumental act of love was so obvious, but just slightly out of frame for the story. 

It makes me think of what acts of love, what devastating acts of grace we somehow gloss over because they’re expected, because the realities of them make us uncomfortable, because if we acknowledge them, they reveal our own weakness. I have toddlers, and as I hold them when they cry or change their diapers, I find myself thinking of how my mom did all this for me. My mom, who I so often rolled my eyes at or dismissed, did all of this for me, and never expected anything. 

It makes me think of the administrative assistant I had when I was a youth pastor. She had been at her job for 25 years when she retired. When she did, and decades of youth families and parents and grandparents came forward, I realized that although she never gave a sermon, or led a small group, or had a coffee date, she had done more youth ministry than I would ever manage to. None of us really were much of anything without her.

Who are the people who are just out of frame in your ministry? Who are the heroes that you are missing? Who are the unsung saints that we unceremoniously crop out of the picture because we take them for granted? Or because they don’t fit well in the story we tell ourselves about who we are? Who are the weekly coffee volunteers you hardly notice, the members whose presence you take for granted, the annual tithe you have come to expect? 

Who is just out of frame? Who is the real hero of the story? And what would it look like to recognize them for it? Be on the lookout this week, and, if you want, send me (kat@ministryincubators.com) the heroes you saw. 

  1. Domestic violence is an extremely complex and personal issue, and the ways that survivors choose to engage with their experiences is as varied as the individuals who have them. The framing in this post is meant to be reflective of Maggie’s framing, and is not meant to be a prescriptive or normative statement about domestic violence more broadly. ↩︎
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Kat Bair

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