You Listen and You Tell and You Become
Anti-Anxiety Tool of the Week: A Little Humor
This tool is from the fourth Toolkit. Here's the Index of all toolkits. And The Mini-Toolkit: For Those with Little or No Time.
You Listen and You Tell and You Become
I remember an Episcopal priest I once knew saying that he didn't talk about his own life from the pulpit--he felt that was too self-centered, and too specific to be of much use to others. Instead, he shared what he thought were more general truths.
"Too bad," I said to myself. "When you tell a story you are more likely to capture the hearts of your listeners." And indeed, though he had interesting ideas, his sermons tended to be somewhat dry and esoteric, without much of a connecting point.
At some later point I heard someone else say that the more personal a story is, the more universal it is likely to be. "Yes!" I said. "That's been my experience." Even if I don't relate to the specifics, a personal story may tickle my funny bone or draw up my compassion or offer an analogy that touches my heart or gives me hope.
I believe that's because, in spite of sometimes major cultural differences, we have similar basic longings as human beings. But also because when we share our personal stories honestly we offer our very selves to our listeners. That shared vulnerability is often gently--and sometimes intensely--compelling, opening doors that preaching and explaining and finger-wagging tend to slam shut.
In two earlier posts (May 13, 2020 and May 21, 2020) I talked about Crow and Weasel, a powerful picture book by National Book Award winner Barry Lopez. In that book one of the characters says: "If stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive."
Here's a story that came to me a number of years ago that I'd like to share with you: the beautiful and compelling picture book, Crossing Bok Chitto: A Choctaw Tale of Friendship and Freedom, in which Choctaw author Tim Tingle and Cherokee illustrator Jeanne Rorex Bridges tell how Native Americans in the antebellum South helped African American slaves escape from the plantations--a little known corner of American history.
The book describes the hidden friendship between young slave Little Mo (short for Moses) and Choctaw girl Martha Tom. They lived on opposite sides of the Bok Chitto river in Mississippi. "Bok Chitto was a boundary. On one side of the river lived the Choctaws....On the other side lived the plantation owners and their slaves. If a slave escaped and made his way across Bok Chitto, the slave was free. That slave owner could not follow. That was the law."
When Little Mo's family gets the news that their mother has been sold to a plantation far away and will be leaving early the next morning, he escapes across Bok Chitto on stones hidden just beneath the surface by the Choctaws, runs to Martha's mother and implores her to do something. She promises to help, sends Little Mo back to his family, now hidden on the other side of the river, and calls the other women of the tribe to don their white wedding outfits. Tingle writes:
The guards stood on the slave side with their dogs and lanterns and guns. Suddenly, they saw emerging from the white fog what looked to them like a band of angels. The angels carried candles that cast a halo glow in the fog around their faces.
Rising from the bushes and coming to life in front of them, the guards saw seven runaway slaves. They lifted their guns to fire.
They never shot their guns that night, for stepping out of the band of angels they saw the most beautiful little angel of them all. Her right hand held a candle, her left hand was outstretched, and she was walking on the water!
Martha Tom was singing a song she had learned at the slave church, but now she sang it in Choctaw....
She took Little Mo by the hand, he took his mother, she took the children, they took their father, and together all seven of them went crossing Bok Chitto. When they reached the Choctaw side of the river, they blew the candles out and disappeared into the fog, never to be seen on the slave side again.
Author Tim Tingle says:
We Choctaws live by our stories....
We do not deny that darkness exists, but we chose to walk in light,
As a people, and for this choice we are rewarded with miracles in our lives.
To stay the darkness we laugh at our frailties, and to stay the needs of others,
We reach out--and we give.
Our stories tell us this is the way it has been.
The telling of our stories assures us this is the way it will be.
You listen and you tell and you become.
Crow and Weasel author Barry Lopez, who died this past December, spoke for me as a storyteller when he said, "It's so difficult to be a human being. There are so many reasons to give up. To retreat into cynicism or despair. I hate to see that and I want to do something that makes people feel safe and loved and capable."
Until next time,
Photo and illustration credits:
Spark of life/hand sanitizer, unknown
Storyteller, Nathan Mullet, unSplash
Little Mo and Martha, illustrator Jeanne Rorex Bridges
Angels on the water, illustrator Jeanne Rorex Bridges
Barry Lopez photo, John W. Clark