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The Power Of Story

Storytelling is central to my teaching style. Stories are woven throughout my talks, workshop presentations, YouTube series and writings. Yes, information and research are included and important to ground and inform, but story somehow speaks more deeply to our hearts and humanity. People will often remember a story over time more clearly than basic facts being highlighted.

Throughout history, before the written word, wisdom was passed down in oral traditions through the sharing of story. Often in circle with others around a fire or through the artwork found on cave walls.

In other writings I have spoken of how the power of story shaped my life initially through my father's influence. He was the director of English productions for the National Film Board in Canada when I was young and would bring documentary films home to screen and review. He was also a gifted storyteller himself! At the time my older sister and I had the privilege of watching many of the films with him. They often involved stories that were raw and real, exploring a range of life issues.

Animation technology has become so much more evolved now beyond anything they could have imagined when I was young. Stop animation was in its foundational years back then. Canadian film maker, Norman McLaren, was known for his work and experiments with this art form. Though it was many decades ago I still clearly remember two short films Dad brought home created by Norman that fell into that genre. As I was writing this blog I searched the NFB archives to watch them again.

One of the stop animation short films that I have never been able to forget that disturbed me at the time but was invaluable to watch was titled “Neighbours”. Simple, powerful, yet no words were spoken. It was about two men living side by side, as neighbours. Both sat in lawn chairs in front of their mocked up, paper cut out houses which were displayed in the backdrop. The men were amicable in the initial stages of the relationship. Life was peaceful and idyllic in their neighbourhood. Then unexpectedly a flower grew and blossomed. A beautiful flower, right on the land between the houses that they owned. At first each man was enamored by the delicate flower, her beauty and rich scent, but then discord began to ensue over who owned the flower. As the conflict became more heated they tried to mark their territories and put up a fence to lay claim to this delicate beauty. Meanwhile the flower kept ducking to protect herself. In the process they both became angrier and without even realizing it they eventually stepped on the flower, trampling it, and destroying the very thing they both first fell in love with. They too died in the process. It was their need to posses the beautiful flower, instead of respecting and honouring her, that caused the greatest demise.

I was in my pre-teen years when I first saw this short film. It has always stayed with me and continues to stir reflection at different moments within my own life. Watching it again was an important reminder that taking an immovable stance simply from my own point of view can divide when interacting with others. Best to take time to sincerely listen, inviting each unique perspective to broaden one's view. Collaboration is key while holding the highest intent in partnership with all aspects of life, relationships, and work.

The second film I remembered is “Pas de Deux”. I loved it as a child (and still do!). A beautiful short black and white film highlighting the grace and synergy of two ballet dancers. I was taking ballet lessons at the time. The fluid movement portrayed along with its sensual nature and intimacy touched me deeply. The expression of art through the dancer’s bodies, their synergy, so graceful and moving to watch. It inspired me to want to be a better dancer and engage more fully in my classes. It also is a beautiful metaphor for when we open our hearts to creativity, connection, and love how things flow so differently than in the previous example.

The best stories inspire us to become something greater within ourselves and in our own lives. This was and still clearly is the case for me. Interesting that after all these years I have never forgotten those two films.

What does this have to do with end-of-life care? What child do you know who doesn’t love a good story? It was over thirty years ago when I began in the field of hospice and realize now it was a profound invitation into the power of story to transform. The absolute privilege of hearing personal tales of lives lived from those nearing death, and from all walks of life, was beyond a gift. Love story after love story. Some filled with heart break, discord, regret, and challenge while others involved deep love, inspiration, and connection. More often a blending of both! Stories from both young and old. Where else are we offered the opportunity to learn so much from the real-life experiences of others at such a pivotal time? The reason legacy through story is important to capture and share amongst your own families and from your own lives. If you take the time to lean in and listen to those nearing death it can be such a rich way to learn about life.

These days, more and more, stories are used to entertain which can be fun and stir excitement. A way to escape the trials and tribulations of life and momentarily be transported through fantasy into untold adventures. Yet when a real life story is shared which inspires me to embrace a higher quality in myself or help me to traverse both the beauty and challenges in my own life in better ways…..that is pure gold which I am grateful for!

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash


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