Story telling (or storytelling, whichever is your preference) likely has a place in every religious and cultural tradition. Some people have a gift for story telling. I have met one in particular in my work in Newton. This is a woman, now in her 95th year, tells stories from her youth as though they happened yesterday – she uses narrative, “My mother would say…” or “My father always…” and “My friend Gracie would….”, “And then I’d…”. From my perspective it is story telling in living color!
Last night I was gifted with a dinner out with a woman from Newton along with one of her adult children who was visiting from Minnesota where she is Pastor of a church. Her mother embarrassed her by asking her daughter to “tell Gay the story of …”. I told her I loved hearing stories and suggested she appreciate the pride and love her Mom was showing in making these requests. And her daughter was indeed, a good story teller – as any pastor worth his or her salt should be!
The other day I visited a woman in a memory loss unit in an assisted living facility. I have been there many times before, but yesterday I was struck by the backgrounds of the residents gathered together in the activity room. I learned that one was a past professor of sociology at Boston College. A number of them had been teachers. Several had been nurses. Another had been a fashion designer, and another a mother of six. Having learned this I longed to learn about the backgrounds of the rest of the group, and more.
I was telling another member of the church who I visited later that day about my experience – and she said “I bet you wanted to write about their stories.” She was right. I would have loved to have learned a bit from these folks about their lives and then would have delighted to put those stories to word (my music). Not everyone in the unit would have been able to help me, but a number of them could have. Some are articulate – so much so that at first blush you might wonder why they were there.
I found my experience at the memory loss unit to be a lesson in humility, and a clear reminder that we need to see the person as he or she is at their inner core, not the clouded individual we see on the surface if we don’t take time to get to know and then honor, who they really are. The times that I listen to story telling remind me that story telling takes two – a teller and a listener; while on occasion I am happy to share a story, I am much more the appreciative listener. Without each, teller and recipient, there would be no stories.