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State of the Story gives community members a chance to come together, heal

Our grandson just had his first birthday. Although not very interested in opening presents, when his mom pulled a book out of a gift bag and handed it to him, he immediately sat down and opened the book. He knows about books and stories. And now we have a new story to tell about our cute, smart little boy.

There are also those stories we create and listen to throughout our lives. It might be a grandparent or friend who tells us the story, but I believe stories are integral to our lives. Stories can make us smile or laugh. Stories can make us sad and bring us to tears. Stories have a powerful influence on us. Search online for “storytelling and healing” and you will find a myriad of organizations, studies and articles about the power of storytelling. Medical research has been done on patients with high blood pressure and they have found that storytelling can lower your blood pressure. The research, done at the University of Massachusetts, continues. Dr. Thomas Houston, lead author of the study, believes “the magic of stories lies in the relatedness they foster.” Stories bind us together.

There was a time (rarely happens these days due to our busy schedules) when families gathered together around the table and shared about their day. Stories were created about events and people. These stories inform us, shape us, touch us. Stories and the telling of those stories can and do help us understand ourselves and one another. We delve deep down inside as someone listens and enters into the depths with us. Stories have the power to heal.

Vanessa Jackson, founder of Healing Circles, states that “the spaces for us to tell stories are disappearing ... we need to create more opportunities for storytelling in our families, communities, and nation. The re-introduction of storytelling will help us better connect to one another and address deep, underlying issues that prevent us from fully healing.”

State of the Story offers our community the opportunity to do just that: tell stories. State of the Story started out as Muriel’s Repair in 2012. It was founded by Pam Monk in the wake of the Sandusky scandal as a way to heal a fractured community. In the beginning, the group consisted of 10-12 people who periodically gathered at Webster’s Bookstore Cafe to tell their stories to each other.

In 2014, this informal group outgrew its original format and became State of the Story at The State Theatre, with storytelling once a month from September-November and March-May. In February 2016, Learning to Live — What’s Your Story partnered with State of the Story to tell stories of loss. Each February since then has been devoted to stories of loss.

This year’s theme — “Tears and Laughter through Loss” opens up another dimension of loss. Six community members will share their personal stories of loss, tears and laughter. The author Henri Nouwen said “at many moments joy and sadness kiss each other.” Strange though it may sound at first, there are moments of joy and laughter even in death.

Our storytellers will affirm that at 6:30 p.m. Monday at The State Theatre as we share our stories. Tickets are $7 and available at thestatetheatre.org.

I am one of those storytellers who will share on Monday. We’ve been gathering together to practice our stories and listen to one another. Already, I feel transformed through this experience. It enabled me to “dig deep” into places I hadn’t been before and discover new perspectives. I can’t wait to share it with those gathered at The State Theatre.

Stories draw us together. Coming out of the dark forests we may begin not only to see the light but also to see things in a new way that can change our experience of a sad and/or frightening event and perhaps even transform us.

If you are not able to join us for State of the Story, please continue to tell stories. There is healing power and human connection for both the teller and the listener.

So, “once upon a time…” or “Grandpa, do you remember when…” Keep sharing your stories. They DO matter.

Evelyn Wald is the executive director of CACJ (Center for Alternatives in Community Justice). 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.
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