Storytelling between the lines…

The small French colony that began on the eastern coast of what is now Canada, started as a fur trading and commercial venture.  The history books I’ve read depict this first collective of men as risk-takers and adventurers.  They came upon a land that was rich in resources and dreamed up plans for beginning a way of life that was better than the one they were experiencing in France.  Eventually, they would send back for their families and as the colony grew, their utopia would get stronger.

Like most stories of early colonialists that came to America, it began with a courageous vision.  There was conflict, death, and struggle.  There was bounty of land and pristine resources.  There were others, the natives.  The nomadic tribe of people that migrated to and from these coastal lands were the Mi’kmaq Indians.  I read about the various historical accounts and still struggle with how to translate the beginning of this commercial (turned agricultural) pursuit.  I’m grateful for those who have taken on the task of compiling these stories and yet…I find myself wanting more. I want to hear from the women, from the workers who tirelessly built the levies to create new farm land. I want to hear from the Mi’kmaq tribe. I want feelings and curiosities, fears and humor.  While parts of this history are fascinating and I will mention these events from time to time, my intention here is to seek out the stories that have yet to be published…today’s story, the everyday story, the one-time story…the stories of those who are willing to share.  I want the stories in-between the lines.

When I find myself frustrated with pen and paper, not knowing quite where to take or leave my thoughts, I remember the fearlessness it takes to put oneself out there.  I am reminded that to tell an honest story, to tell your honest story…is truly an act of heart-bearing generosity.  I have pulled aside some of my writer/artist friends recently wondering how and where they find the courage to throw themselves in the fire.   In the midst of these casual conversations, something that immediately comes to mind is my experience this summer guiding 12 teenagers into the wilderness for 21 days.  A piece of the curriculum during this trip included an opportunity for each one of them to tell their personal life story. Throughout the course of 21 days, every person was given one hour to describe their life story to date, in their own words. This simple activity of sharing in front of an audience opened up a world of vulnerability and chance for expression that many people never get to experience in their lifetime. How often do we give people…let alone teenagers…a chance to tell their story in front of an audience that remains fully engaged?  What I witnessed from this experience was people building the capacity to feel compassion for one another. The group was given the chance to listen and imagine what it could be like to live in the shoes of another.  As each kid revealed themselves to the group,  I noticed that they began to feel more at ease in their bodies. Their voices were being heard and through this act of individual acknowledgment, you could feel the group bonding, relating, and sharing more frequently. After this experience, I felt more drawn to the act of storytelling than ever before.

In brief, this may be some of what it means to tell a story, to tell your story. Speaking your voice exposes personal and human relevance. You may be inadvertently giving younger generations a reason to express themselves and/or the inspiration to speak at all.  You could be creating space for older generations to tolerate change and difference…or perhaps remind them that you still care.  Not only is our voice an act of courage, but there is a certain amount of responsibility in all of it.  Perhaps somewhere, our expressions build empathy and open us up to laughter, allow for greater understanding or begin community.  It might give us a reason to build up or break down.  History books don’t tell it all…in fact, they rarely even skim the surface.  This is why it is an act of boldness when we choose to step up and make our stories known.  I am interested.  I want to seek out the stories that get told by the fireside…the stories that continue to be retold and the ones that have never been told.  What do you want to leave behind?  If you could write in-between the lines, what would you say?

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