I recently had the opportunity to sit with Janna and Jules of EPIC to review the final list of stories that the kids will be turning into performances for the school-based project. We discussed all the story lines, and started to look for themes, connections, etc. It was a very enlightening discussion!
The primary theme that seemed to emerge from these stories was a pattern of breaking things and then mending them: breaking bones, breaking relationships, breaking trust, breaking windows, ripping pants…. the list goes on. But in the end, those things generally get mended, and the stories that we tell need to include that part.
Which brings me to my big learning for the day: difficult stories. When is it ok to tell them? And when we do, how should we tell them? There were a few stories that came from these kids (some were the kid’s stories directly, some were stories told to them by their parents or other relatives) that are full of cold, hard facts. One child’s mother died of cancer, only to be followed exactly two years later by his grandfather passing away. There was another story of a girl growing up about thirty years ago with an abusive mother who locked her in a closet as punishment. Eventually, her family was able to escape the abusive mother and find a home of their own where they could be together, but to this day that girl is still afraid of small, dark spaces.
Do you see the difference between these two stories? Both stories are full of cold, hard facts, but in the first story the child telling it is still too young and too close to the experience to recognize or understand how it has affected him. It has no redeeming ending that we can gain something from – only sadness. The second story, on the other hand, is very difficult to hear but ends on a note of strength (in her family escaping together), as well as sharing how there are parts of the experience that still hurt her to this day. She has had time to process the events.
All stories are important, but they all have their time. When working with a community it is important to focus on those stories that are ready to be told.