By Beth McLaughlin, February 23, 2020
Stories need to be told. Stories need to be heard.
That’s exactly what happened Monday night, February 17th, when six local storytellers took to the stage in The Attic of The State Theatre. The stories were heartfelt and compelling. There was laughter. There were tears. Each person told a story about a time or times in which he/she had re-launched their lives in some new way. Some told of how their lives were currently re-launching.
Many in the audience could relate to the stories because that is what stories do, they connect our personal narratives to the universal. They bring us together.
However, the stories told from the stage that night are only a small part of the larger story. How did these people, most of them strangers, come together two weeks before the event and identify and develop their stories? How did they take complicated life dynamics, things like – loss of the familiar, deep yearning, death, legacy of alcoholism, letting go of control, and terrible injury – and then create into an eight-minute story?
That is a challenge. That is a very BIG challenge. There is so much to tell and so little time to tell it.
What really happened during the coaching sessions that laid the groundwork for these stories? What really happened behind the story?
Stories need to be witnessed. One of the definitions of witness is: to be present when something important happens.
There it is – being present. This is the foundation of how this process really works. Well beyond simply speaking and hearing, witnessing embodies being deeply in tune with the words that are being said and the words that are also not being said. The visible and invisible.
Here is where the deeper story lives just waiting to be brought to life.
It can be extremely difficult. How does someone not only articulate deeply personal parts of their story but then also craft it into an organized structure that others can understand?
It can also be pure magic. Those moments of connections and understanding. Those moments when tears and laughter erupt at the same exact time. Those moments when a deeper truth is revealed. Those moments when a storyteller begins with a jumbled narrative and returns to weave together a cohesive story.
Witnessing allows space for both the internal process of discovering and the engaged interaction of uncovering. From this dynamic process, the story is born.
Joseph Campbell famously wrote about this in The Hero with a Thousand Faces. A story often begins when a character, for one reason or another, who is thrust from his/her ordinary world. The journey begins. The hero sets off, sometimes kicking and screaming, into an adventure. The path is followed and along the way there are ordeals, dangers, allies, and enemies. Along the way the character finds something new, often inside themselves, and they find the road back, returning with new knowledge and new strength for the journey that continues, but in a whole new way.
That’s what each of these storytellers did in order to identify and then craft their experiences into a powerful story. They re-walked their paths, they re-traced their steps, they re-lived complex situations, and they re-membered trauma and loss, then linked them together to create something unique, something beautiful. This process took courage and required vulnerability. They struggled and some even wanted to quit, but they kept going and in the process re-launched into a new world.
There is nothing more important that owning your own experience. There is nothing more transformative than speaking your own story.
This is reflected in one of Campbell’s quotes: “The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek.”
These six storytellers entered their caves, grasped pieces of their lives, forged their stories, and came out transformed. They emerged with new and surprising gifts that they will carry with them in the days ahead.
They bore witness to their own story. They bore witness to each other’s stories. They listened with open ears and open hearts, catching truth embedded in the spaces between words and in seemingly unrelated memories. Bearing witness deepened the communication process and illuminated the murky, and sometimes dark, places into a newer, brighter light. Their stories shone from that stage.
No one had to enter the cave alone. That is the story behind My Life: Re-Launched.
Beth McLaughlin, writer and coach, helps others own their stories through Write It Together. This column is coordinated by www.ltlwys.org, whose mission is to create educational and conversational opportunities for meaningful intergenerational exchanges on loss, grief, growth and transformation.
This article was published in Centre Daily Times on February 23, 2020.