Calling on the Past to Heal the Present
This article, published in PS Magazine in the May/June 2016 issue, Pages 18-22, highlights how Elder stories are a source of healing not only on a personal level, but on a global one as well. Explore how two unique stories illustrate the vast potential of Elder wisdom to heal our world.
Years ago, I came across this powerful quote from author Richard Stone. In his book, The Healing Art of Storytelling, he shares:
Just as clear-cutting an old-growth forest leads to… deforestation… our culture has been devastated by the loss of storytelling as a tool of communicating, passing on values, learning, and most importantly, healing. The effect of ‘destorification’ is just as devastating as its ecological cousin.
In our fast-paced, social media crazed world, we have lost touch with the intimate power of stories shared person to person… particularly the stories of Elders. At The Eden Alternative, we consider the life stories of Elders to be some of the greatest gifts a community can receive. Elder stories serve as a legacy for younger generations – a source of wisdom unparalleled in popular culture and media.
Stone’s assertion that storytelling is a source of healing has a special resonance for me. Years ago, during my father’s journey with Alzheimer’s disease, it was reflecting on his life story that made all the difference in recovering his well-being. As an Air Force pilot and colonel who served for 30 years, Dad was a natural leader. In one particular long-term care community, however, this quality translated as “troublemaker” to the staff there. Seeking to control Dad – rather than meet his need to be seen – they over-medicated him severely. Slumped over and drooling in the corner of the room, he had become lifeless, but certainly compliant. Feeling helpless and outraged, I wrote a piece of prose, entitled “I Am Howard.” Written in the first person, it captured 12 or so stanzas that highlighted significant aspects of Dad’s life story. Not knowing what doing so would accomplish, I tacked it to the wall above his bed. Soon, his care partners began to ask more questions. They wanted to know more about his Air Force career. What planes did he fly, and where exactly did he grow up in New York City? Little differences arose in the way some of them connected with him. And, in turn, Dad began to light up more…