A water-bearer carries two large pots on a yoke across his shoulders up the hill from the river to his master's house each day. One has a crack and leaks half its water out each day before arriving at the house. The other pot is perfect and always full of water after the long walk from the river.
Finally, after years of arriving half-empty, the cracked pot apologized to the water-bearer. It was miserable. "I'm sorry that I couldn't accomplish what the perfect pot did."
The water-bearer says, "What do you have to apologize for?"
"After all this time, I still only deliver half my load of water. I make more work for you because of my flaw."
The man smiled and told the pot. "Do you see all the lovely flowers growing on the side of the path where I carried you? I noticed your leak and scattered seeds. The flowers are so lovely because of the water you leaked. There are no flowers on the perfect pot's side."
None of us is without flaw, without pain, without scars and cracks.
When we tell our own stories of pain and survival, we heal. When we listen to others tell their stories, we heal. You don't have to be a therapist, you need only be an ordinary compassionate human being who listens to someone else. As tellers, we can process our own pain and turn it into performance that is, as Elizabeth Ellis puts it, a roadmap to hell and back. I went there, the same place you are now. I survived. I returned and I healed. Here is a map.
Storytelling helps us heal. I have seen miracles. The woman who began telling the story of her rape, over and over, and now sings praise songs to the universe. The man who told the story of his son's birth and death, so he and his family could heal, discovering along the way that he was actually celebrating his son's life. My own retellings of fairy tales and myths that are really about mental illness or loss. Storytelling helps us heal.
This has been the case since we began to communicate; think of Prometheus' terrible pain, of Ishtar's grief, on and on. Story has the capacity to help us heal. I address healing story in organizations here.
There are some wonderful online resources to get you started with healing story. Here are a few of my favorites.
- The Healing Story Alliance an organization dedicated to storytelling as a healing art.
- Postsecret a website where anyone can anonymously share a secret and we realize none of us are alone in the dark.
- Healing Histories a neighborhood in New Orleans collected stories to heal post-Katrina.
- Elisa Pearmain is a storyteller and my friend. She uses story for peace work, healing and more. She has written several books of these tales.
- Lastly, the biggest example of healing story I can image: The Truth and Reconciliation Commission in post-apartheid South Africa. Rather than imprison or kill those who had committed atrocious acts of bigotry, a nation told their story. People listened to each other and decided to build something better. While the impact is debatable, it was done without bloodshed. This is nothing short of miraculous, and it was all done through story.
Spider Robinson, a wise and wonderful science fiction writer, wrote Shared pain is lessened, shared joy increased. Storytelling is the vehicle. Let us heal together.
(c)2013 Laura S. Packer