~ Annette Simmons
I read a lot of books when I was growing up. Summer vacations in rural Jamaica tend to be long and without much in the way of entertainment. There were no malls to wander through, no movies to go to, and the TV (one station?) was in black and white. Sumer days start off hot under a clear blue sky, and before long wisps of clouds gather and build into lofty cumulo-nimbus edifices. By mid-afternoon cold shards of rain start to drop from a charcoal grey sky. Before long the tropical downpour locks everyone indoors. Rainy afternoons are made for reading. The drumming on the roof, the occasional crack of lightning and rumble of thunder form the perfect backdrop for a good murder mystery.
The library in Chapelton was not large and the choices were limited. So I read everything. Historical novels, Nancy Drew mysteries, even non-fiction helped to pass the long hours. I even read science fiction: Isaac Asimov; Ray Bradbury, I tried everything at least once. Over the last decade I have changed my reading habits drastically, when I returned to school. Fiction became a rare treat, textbooks and journal articles are my current entertainment.
But stories are how we make it through life. My father collected stories as he went about his day, ministering to the members of his church and the wider community. He would jot them down in his notebook, and then weave them into his sermons and lessons, illustrating deeper philosophical and religious themes with real-life examples of sacrifice and integrity. And always with a humorous twist. His Friday Morning Messages (delivered to the students of the high school of which he was chaplain) are famous for his ‘stories’. He would end them with the disclaimer ‘…and is true, you know’, declared with a half dimple and a twinkle, which made everyone think the opposite.
When I was growing up we would share our stories at the end of the day, finding a way to turn obstacles and frustrations into comedic monologues. My siblings can have me laughing hysterically as they relay the tale of a simple shopping adventure, or a harrowing road trip. There is nothing that we cannot laugh about if we tell it the right way.
Nurses tell stories to make it through their day, to blunt the effect of sharing the pain and suffering of others. We tell stories to our patients, to help them get through their new realities. We tell stories to our families, making light of our daily tasks and experiences, some of which are anything but funny. We tell stories to new nurses, to highlight the importance of doing things the right way.
In the classroom teachers use stories to focus attention, to make a lesson memorable, to illustrate a point. My students think I have an amazing amount of friends, all with the worst luck or health, since many of my stories begin with ‘I have a friend…’ But sometimes the lines between fact and fiction blur, we misremember where and when things happened. Did I really know that person, or did I read it somewhere? But that doesn’t change the impact of a well-chosen example, a way of using real people to bring a disorder to life. To remind new nurses that textbooks teach disease processes, signs and symptoms, treatments and interventions. But it is real people who experience these illnesses, who inhabit these misbehaving bodies. It is their stories we must hear if we really want to help people.
For many people Facebook has become the way we unburden ourselves after a long day, the way we share our lives with friends and families who may be many miles away. We can watch videos of children dancing in Ghana, of young women resisting oppression in India, and gain insight into the lives of others. This is how we come to realize that others are not so different from us, and we see how we are connected.
Our stories bring us together, and help us make sense of our experiences on this planet that we share. Sometimes we mislabel them, paint them as tragedies when they are really just inconveniences, making mountains out of molehills. In our stories we can be a victim or a superhero, we can rebrand a tale of pain into a Disney movie. It is the same story – but cast in a different light.
This Friday morning I give thanks for all of the people who have shared their stories and their lives with me. My life is richer because of all of these colorful threads. I appreciate the life that we humans share, stories that we can communicate, tales that illuminate, common emotions that resonate. I hope that today as you encounter frustration and grief as we often do, you think to yourself, ‘This will make a great story some day!’ and that will help you to smile in the face of adversity.
Have a wonderful Friday Family, and a fabulous weekend! Share your stories, look for a different way to cast them to bring a smile to your own face, you are here to tell your tale, that cannot be a bad thing! And remember: ‘Is true, you know!’