We all have a story; actually we all have many stories. I believe we tend to hang out and socialize with people whose stories are similar, familiar, or at least have stories that live in the same books that our stories live in. And then, we hear stories that are so different, radically far and unfamiliar, and we are left shocked, dismayed, sad and somewhat happy. Happy for our good fortune. Happy to have a chance to get a perspective about our life. Relived, relived that the story we just heard isn’t ours.
Every Thursday I am reminded of the goodness of my story.
I am reminded of the great fortune I have had in my life. Of the love, safety, wellbeing and fantastical stories I have experienced and lived.
Nothing, absolutely nothing could and can prepare me for the stories I hear from my girls in Jail and the ones that have been released.
I listen, and I can’t believe.
I listen and my insides turn inside and out.
I listen and must rally every ounce of wisdom I have to think what to say, try to understand, but most of all except the painful reality that my job, actually our job sometimes is to just listen. Because at the end of the day, there is nothing we can say or do that can make the story better.
We can listen, and then we need to use everything we have and know to CHANGE the story. More important, we must help the storyteller understand that stories can and will be changed. That is the true splendor of storytelling, not the beginning, but where we go to find the end, which is ALWAYS a new beginning.
Today we wrote love letters.
I started by reading them the boys love letters. Their reactions to these poems was very lukewarm, they were chitchatting and not really focused.
They listened, but they we not uber engaged, they chuckled.
The boys poems are very cliché, very lovey dovey.
About the sun the moon the stars. They seem simple and even a little childish.
BUT ,believe me getting the tough rough gang bangers to write something, express their feelings and tell me their stories and writing something like this;
“You’ve brought me nothing but happiness, I hope I have done the same. Without your love I am like a room with no space.”
Getting them to do that was like pulling teeth –without Novocain!
The girls reactions were a little mocking, they thought the poems sounded “gay”. We talked about how they would feel if someone wrote them a love poem /love letter like that.
“What if?” I asked. That, really made them laughs out loud.
I find it sad how little they expect and think they deserve, how suspicious they are.
“If my boyfriend did that?”
“Well, he’s probably covering up for something.”
And then I asked them to write a love letter or story. “Tell me your story!!” I asked.
We put music on, their music.
One commented: “It’s hard to write a love letter when you got hood music on Ms.”
But everyone else protested.
So they wrote WITH the hood music in the background .
They wrote about the sister who lost her way.
The Father who was the one who introduced them to drugs.
A un- born baby girl.
The lover who betrayed.
The mother who stepped up.
The new love. The ultimate love.
There were two that had one story.The story of how they found each other .How they fell in love. They couldn’t look at each other when they read it, they actually had to sit with their back to each other as they said the words out loud, only to make us all blush from the public disclosing of information and feelings .The read their stories cautiously, and reluctantly. One by one they shared, they told us, and they brought their world to us. It got quiet. A hand was reached across the table, a kiss was given on the head, a back was rubbed, a giggle slipped out. A nod of a head gave reassurance, and the bonding began.
The bonding that happens when someone tells, and the other listens.
I am not always sure that what I do has long-term effect.
I don’t know if the lessons I teach can survive the storms that await my girls.
But today, for the moment, a burden was unloaded.
As the class came to an end there was lightness.
A lightness that came from story sharing. It was not about having the same experience, or even understanding, it was about being present, it was about companionate listening.
It was not about finding a solution. It was opening our ears, not our mouth.
It was about being free of judgment and the need to fix or change.
It was letting the story be told.
And now that it was told? Now that it is out?
We can and will move forward.
So, tell your stories, share your stories. Don’t hold back, share with anyone and everyone. Listen to other people’s stories with kindness and love. Take the stories in, even if you cannot relate and / or understand .
Because, once a story is told that is when it can change.