What’s your story?
Don’t think that you don’t have one — or that no one wants to hear it, implored Donna Oiland, a community outreach director from Evergreen Healthcare’s department of spiritual care, in a May 14 class at the Redmond Senior Center.
The free “Creating a Legacy” class explored ways to get past mental blocks that prevent you from sharing your memorable life experiences with relatives, friends or the community.
Oiland passed out Life Events work sheets and asked participants to jot down at least “five things you are experienced in, three humorous events in your life, three special people in your life, one embarrassing moment, one tragedy and one special trip you have taken.” Any of these topics could be the launch pad for a terrific story. Unfortunately, she noted, “telling stories is a dying art.”
She mentioned a TV commercial where someone tries to pay for something with cash and everyone else in the line gets upset because they think the transaction is taking too long. The product they’re pitching, of course, is a credit card, but the commercial speaks volumes about the frenzied pace that more and more of us have accepted as normal.
“Hurry, worry and more — that’s our whole life now,” Oiland remarked. “People are always on their cell phones or e-mails. They’re always talking, but they’re not communicating. … We were born to communicate in stories. The wonderful thing about stories is that once someone tells you a story, you know them in a different way. It breaks down barriers.”
Whole cultures, such as the African-Americans and Native Americans, have relied on oral and written accounts of events and traditions that shaped their families and villages. The story tellers in these cultures were highly revered. The details they provided were precious links to their past and gave inspiration for the future, said Oiland.
“Now we don’t take the time (to share our stories). Our families are fractured. They don’t eat together, maybe don’t live near each other,” she continued. “The number one excuse to not tell stories is, ‘I don’t have time,’ but we have just as much time as Michelangelo and da Vinci did (when they created their masterpieces). It’s not that they don’t have time, it’s that they don’t make it a priority.”
Another excuse is, “My story’s not interesting.”
Oiland disagreed, “It doesn’t have to be epic. You don’t have to talk about traveling across the country on a covered wagon. It’s anything, the little moments that make up your life.”
She read aloud a powerful short story from a man who initially brushed it off, saying, “It was just one hour in my life.”
As a young boy in the 1950s, he was at a train station with his grandmother and grew thirsty. He spotted two drinking fountains, one marked “white” and the other “colored.” In his naivete, he thought that one featured rainbow-colored water. He waited, flustered, as clear water flowed from the fountain. An angry woman scolded him and said he wasn’t supposed to drink from that fountain. He didn’t understand, but his grandma told him, “You can drink from whatever fountain you like. The water is the same in both. We’re all the same. We’re all God’s children.”
This was just one incident in that writer’s life, many, many years ago. But look what this recollection told listeners about that period in American history, the shame of segregation and the quality of his grandmother’s character.
Writing with perfection is another notion that scares many people away from telling their stories. They think of their school assignments coming back with red markings, said Oiland.
“Grammar and spelling don’t have to be perfect. It’s about telling the story,” she emphasized. “We can’t change the culture where people only look at DVDs or their computers, but we can tell stories to keep people and things that matter to us alive.”
A story could be about beloved family recipes or household objects passed down from one generation to another. Or you could carry a notebook with you, and whenever you hear a favorite song, write a paragraph about what you were doing when you first heard that song.
The Creating a Legacy class will be repeated on July 31 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Evergreen Hospital Medical Center, 12040 NE 128th St., Kirkland. To register, call 425-899-3100.