Tomorrow night I am volunteering at an event to help raise awareness of the conditions under which refugees and refugee claimants flee their countries of origin. Four individuals will share their stories in the safety of coffee shop, with what is hopefully a sympathetic crowd. Having had the privilege of hearing some of the stories during a practice run, I was really moved at how eloquently these strong people were able to articulate their loss and pain.
Hearing them speak so clearly about the challenges they faced – and still face – made me realize how powerful a story can be. In the sharing of these stories, we the audience are able to participate in the healing process. We bear witness in order that they may see themselves as strong and capable. And they offer us the gift of insight and the opportunity to engage with them. We mirror each other into existence.
So much of my own life has been spent in the shadows; shying away from drawing too much attention to myself because I didn’t feel confident in the stories I told or in the facts I collected. I wasn’t raised to believe in myself or in my ability to be strong, independent and generous. Those are skills that were only nurtured once I settled on the west coast of Canada, with the help of friends who for some reason saw something of value in me, and therapists who repeatedly told me I was gifted and intelligent and my story was important.
What is a story worth? I am still figuring that out.
In the meantime I will listen to what others have to say, I will learn from them how to communicate what sometimes feels so unbearably painful. A teacher once told me that pain is just undifferentiated energy. That our bodies are energy circulation devices. We were not built to store energy but to spread it. A story is a kind of energy that is packaged and passed on like a gift.
Learning how to tap into my own source of power, my well of energy is quite the challenge. I feel like my coping skills – avoidance, dissociation, solitude – have served me so well in the past as a tool of survival that put them aside is difficult. As the old adage goes: if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. But I know I must, in this case, “break” the silence in order to change, to grow. Because distancing myself from the things that scare me (that is, everything) prevents me from plugging myself into the life force that is the world. When I retreat, I can feel myself wilting like a flower.
I believe that some of us are destined to walk paths that wind and curl before they lead us to our destination. Mine has been a dangerous and particularly windy road. But I can see the light shine through the leaves in the distance, and I know that if I just keep going I will emerge from the dank and musty jungle I’ve been struggling through.
As for the refugees we’ll hear from tomorrow night, I’m sure they, too, have wondered at times how and why their paths have led to such scary places. But together maybe we can find a way out of the darkness, maybe through a sharing of the stories that make up our identities, we can build an understanding, a future, that we all can be proud of. Maybe storytelling truly is a form of medicine.
I am looking forward to a dose of medicine tomorrow night.