Tag Archive: story-telling


boundaries

Boundaries

Emma was dead.

I mean, she got that, she really did. Although to be fair, it had taken her quite a while.

But, in her defense, this was completely different to anything she had experienced before, and so recognising it was perhaps not such an obvious connection. What was so distinct about her present state, ‘Was this a state? A condition perhaps? Or do you have to be alive to be in any form of condition? Let’s stick with state for now,’ was its complete and utter differentness to anything else she had previously known.

‘Known?’ Know. To be aware of. Hm, even that seems wrong. It’s like i am in this place of complete awareness with regards to things known and experienced, but i still don’t really have a lot of idea of what is really going on. And what comes next?’

There had been no Terry Pratchettian CAPS LOCK voice speaking directly to her brain to let her know that Death in his, ‘His? ‘Its’ maybe? Does Death even have a gender? All that assuming Death actually has a form and persona of course. I think I may have read too many fairy tales on this topic,’ skeletalness was present and ready to take her away.

‘Skeletalness is NOT a real word. I seem to be really struggling with words to describe my current scenario. That’s the whole trick when you’re introduced to something so well and truly differently different I guess. Urgh, my mom would have cringed at ‘differently different’. Okay, focus, Emma, and let’s try and figure out what comes next. I mean, there is a next, right? This can’t be… it?’

Emma had actually lost count of the number of hours that she had spent trying to “figure out what comes next” before the moment of realisation had struck her that she was in fact dead. You would think it would have been more obvious, but there had been a certain confusion about her, a kind of mist, when she had woken up, ‘No, it can’t be woken up. That would imply sleeping. But I wasn’t sleeping, I was dead. Um, but it had felt like waking up, so maybe we’ll go with that for now,’ and tried to go somewhere else.

The cloud had so descended upon her that even though grasping at a door handle with fingers that were no longer there should have itself been a deafening clue, it had simply delivered to her the information that this particular exit was not a viable one and would she try somewhere else. The second door that led out to the, well previously had led out to the pantry, was also no help. She had moved to windows to no avail, and then, in desperation, and with a sufficient amount of panic, even attempted to pull a chair below the trapdoor in the roof. ‘But pulling anything becomes an impossible endeavour when you have nothing to pull with. Oh look, there I am.’

‘Hours? Had it been hours? It had seemed so, but what was time now? It might have been minutes, or even seconds? Every moment seemed to fade into the next one, in silence of course.’ The one thing Emma had picked up quite quickly on, once she realised, was the deafening silence that, ‘No! No! No! You cannot have a deafening silence. That does not make sense and it has never made sense no matter what ridiculous name the teachers had given to it. Silence is quiet. It cannot deafen you. Overwhelming, perhaps? That is what this silence has felt like. Almost like it was the presence of nothingness as if that could be a thing either. Where was I?’

Even when she was looking down at her lifeless body, transfixed, mesmerized, paralysed, hypnotised, spellbound, enraptured, bewitched, captivated, fascinated, engrossed, stunned, immobili… ‘Stop it! Stop it! Stop it! Remain calm. You’re losing it. You’re losing it. Keep it together. What is going on here? Surely something has to happen next. Surely someone, some… thing… has to appear and help me or lead me away or something? Tell me what to do.’

Those last five words she had meant to scream, but there was no screaming here. There was no sound at all. She could barely register her thoughts as words and even they were starting to make less send to her. She felt trapped here. Once she had discovered her body and however long it had taken for her to join those dogs together, to realise that she was in fact deaf, she had quickly become hysterical. Walking through walks had not proved fruitful. It definitely screamed as if something was keeping her in this roam.

What was she meant to don’t? She had no ideal. Her hedge seemed to be spitting now. Lied and worms humming at her foam awe differential erections. No right minded bacteria carpool battery battery emphasis derivative.

Hated.

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Be sure to check out the other amazing posts with this same title with:

i recently discovered the incredibly gifted Dante who writes incredible micro poetry on his blog, Original-Dante. Thinking my poetry would definitely err on the macro side we decided to do a collaboration and use the same title to inspire two different poems and so here is my offering:

THOUGHTS FROM THE BLENDER

i gaze into the mirror
and the person staring back at me is not you
i cast my eyes across to your face
slowly becoming aware of
the lines of a well-worn path
have i even set foot on that road before?

i stare more deeply into your soul
only to have pictures of my life
flood back at me
i fling them to the ground
as i ready myself to dive right in
but am blocked by the life-sized
lifeless cardboard cutout that stands in my way

me
my life
my words
my thoughts
and my experiences
trying to tell your story through my voice
only rings in my ears
like a much-repeated but long-forgotten fairy-tale i thought i knew
so i close my eyes

and it takes a whole long time
minutes pass like hours
or are those indeed hours
that i am waiting upon
until what is ours
eventually starts to ever so slowly fade

days pass
and i can just about make out the
pathetic sad little robotic figure that is me
waving one last goodbye final wave
as it slides out of the peripheries
and i am gone

still me
still here
eyes closed
waiting
listening to the heaviness of
the air being breathed in and out around me

suddenly
as if you had always been there
watching silently from the shadows
my ears catch sight of you
through the words i’ve taken time to hear
to really listen to
and a picture of you begins to take shape
and you look different than i had ever taken time to imagine

i pull my eyes more tightly shut
knowing that to open them again
would ruin my chances
of ever truly opening them again

and i look once more
as your sound travels towards me
in wave after wave of deep illumination

rich colours are realised
and this new person that is you
more you than you have ever been
and yet completely the you
you have always been and are
the you i never got to see
beyond my stereotypic perceptions
of the you i have always ever painted you to be

oh but when you paint you
what a glorious you
you turn out to be
words become stories
which take shape
in, through and around the pain
that lies scarring your embattled torso
and i see
the you that is you is nothing like
the you that is me.

and it is good.

[To read my new mate Original Dante’s much shorter poem with the same title, click here] 

Also we would love to hear what you think of the experiment of doing a long and a micro version using the same title as inspiration – once you’ve read both, please comment on how you experienced the combo…

disclaimer

This morning i went to a prayer meeting i used to regularly attend when we lived in Oakland a year ago.

This other couple arrived just behind us and so i turned around and greeted them, shook his hand and as i went to greet her i assume i must have put out my hand, and so she put out her hand and i wasn’t even properly looking and so it must have been my extremely great peripheral vision [cover your cards when you’re sitting next to me in poker] that alerted me to the fact that something was different. She only had one finger in the place where i was expecting a whole hand and so there was a last second adjustment and i think i ended up shaking her wrist, rather than her hand. Which felt a little bit weird.

What is the protocol when shaking hands with someone who has a finger where the rest of the hand should be? Is it to shake the finger? Or to go for the wrist? Urgh, wrist felt wrong and so i felt awkward and it all happened so quickly and other people arrived and so other greetings were made and then we very quickly got into the meeting and so i still don’t know the answer to that one. i also don’t know if it would have been okay/right/normal/polite for me to have asked what happened [or did something even happen or was she born like that?] or whether you just pretend everything is normal and try not to stare.

i wonder how it is i once managed to write a post titled ‘Blessed are the Retards’ without one bit of push back? Maybe it’s cos that was way back in 2010 when no-one was reading my blog… i mean clearly i get the point of what i was trying to do then, but i didn’t even disclaim or give reference to or anything… or maybe that was the point? But the question was the same, how am i supposed to be around someone who is different if i don’t know how to be around that person?

speciali mean i feel like a bit of a dick writing this. i don’t think i’m a complete dick. But something about this feels like it should be completely obvious and yet, it just sometimes isn’t [and sometimes it is a lot more obvious than other times]. i also hope that above picture isn’t advocating that we hold little kids in wheelchairs above our heads cos i don’t know how safe that is.

i found the series i ran on the Taboo Topics section on my blog on Living with Disabilities to be super helpful in this regard. My friend, Louise, who has Asperger’s [which i always had heard as asBergers before, so even that little bit of learning was helpful] wrote this really helpful piece, but she also took time to explain a lot more in depth and send me links to helpful articles and videos. So i feel like i am a little more equipped now to understand some of what might be helpful to her when we hang out.

i have asked a few different people to write a piece on Down’s Syndrome but so far no takers. My experience has been that people with Down Syndrome  for the most part tend to come across as incredibly joyful and happy people. i would love to know more. Is that even true? And i feel like someone taking the time to share a story with me and some insight might help me to interact better next time i come face to face with someone with Down Syndrome.

story

i imagine there is not a one-size-fits-all to this. But also that unless i’m the biggest doucheball the world has ever seen [some would very likely attest to that!] that others might be feeling the same things or wanting to ask the same questions. And i imagine that a lot of the education comes through story-telling and so maybe i just need more people sharing more stories of different  people who are living with disabilities.

i mean, this is the answer to our race issues, right? And also a big help for those who are trying to figure out being married to hear from others who have journeyed for various numbers of years at that? And again and again it has shown to be true of the so-called Taboo Topics, where stories shared on areas that have rarely been spoken about [like losing a child or being single, struggling with an eating disorder or trying to be a parent of a young child when it hasn’t been all that easy, and more] have given encouragement, strength and hope to others who find themselves in similar places.

i’m convinced that story-telling and relationship-building is one of the biggest keys to living life well in all spheres and this is just another one of those. And probably a good reminder for me to realise that as different as a different seeming person may be to me, i am the equivalent amount of different to them and so maybe my story is important as well.

What do you think about this? Is it way more simple [or perhaps completely more complicated] than i am making out?

What story would you like to hear?

[One of the most incredible responses ever, thanks to my friend Michelle Botha]

For some of you this will be a “best, most moving story I ever read, must forward to 100 friends” whereas for others, halfway through the first line will have you rolling your eyes and going, “Oh, one of those”

if you are the former, enjoy the story, it’s an inspiring story…

if you are the latter, jump down to the bottom and see the point i am trying to make about it, it’s a great point:

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As she stood in front of her 5th grade class on the very first day of school, she told the children an untruth. Like most teachers, she looked at her students and said that she loved them all the same. However, that was impossible, because there in the front row, slumped in his seat, was a little boy named Teddy Stoddard.

Mrs. Thompson had watched Teddy the year before and noticed that he did not play well with the other children, that his clothes were messy and that he constantly needed a bath. In addition, Teddy could be unpleasant.

It got to the point where Mrs. Thompson would actually take delight in marking his papers with a broad red pen, making bold X’s and then putting a big “F” at the top of his papers.

At the school where Mrs. Thompson taught, she was required to review each child’s past records and she put Teddy’s off until last. However, when she reviewed his file, she was in for a surprise.

Teddy’s first grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is a bright child with a ready laugh. He does his work neatly and has good manners… he is a joy to be around..”

His second grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is an excellent student, well liked by his classmates, but he is troubled because his mother has a terminal illness and life at home must be a struggle.”

His third grade teacher wrote, “His mother’s death has been hard on him. He tries to do his best, but his father doesn’t show much interest and his home life will soon affect him if some steps aren’t taken.”

Teddy’s fourth grade teacher wrote, “Teddy is withdrawn and doesn’t show much interest in school. He doesn’t have many friends and he sometimes sleeps in class.”

By now, Mrs. Thompson realized the problem and she was ashamed of herself. She felt even worse when her students brought her Christmas presents, wrapped in beautiful ribbons and bright paper, except for Teddy’s. His present was clumsily wrapped in the heavy, brown paper That he got from a grocery bag Mrs. Thompson took pains to open it in the middle of the other presents. Some of the children started to laugh when she found a rhinestone bracelet with some of the stones missing, and a bottle that was one-quarter full of perfume.. But she stifled the children’s laughter when she exclaimed how pretty the bracelet was, putting it on, and dabbing some of the perfume on her wrist. Teddy Stoddard stayed after school that day just long enough to say, “Mrs. Thompson, today you smelled just like my Mom used to.” After the children left, she cried for at least an hour.

On that very day, she quit teaching reading, writing and arithmetic. Instead, she began to teach children. Mrs. Thompson paid particular attention to Teddy. As she worked with him, his mind seemed to come alive. The more she encouraged him, the faster he responded. By the end of the year, Teddy had become one of the smartest children in the class and, despite her lie that she would love all the children the same, Teddy became one of her “teacher’s pets..”

A year later, she found a note under her door, from Teddy, telling* her that she was still the best teacher he ever had in his whole life.

Six years went by before she got another note from Teddy. He then wrote that he had finished high school, third in his class, and she was still the best teacher he ever had in life.

Four years after that, she got another letter, saying that while things had been tough at times, he’d stayed in school, had stuck with it, and would soon graduate from college with the highest of honors. He assured Mrs. Thompson that she was still the best and favorite teacher he had ever had in his whole life.

Then four more years passed and yet another letter came. This time he explained that after he got his bachelor’s degree, he decided to go a little further. The letter explained that she was still the best and favorite teacher he ever had. But now his name was a little longer…. The letter was signed, Theodore F. Stoddard, MD.

The story does not end there. You see, there was yet another letter that spring. Teddy said he had met this girl and was going to be married. He explained that his father had died a couple of years ago and he was wondering if Mrs. Thompson might agree to sit at the wedding in the place that was usually reserved for the mother of the groom.

Of course, Mrs. Thompson did. And guess what? She wore that bracelet, the one with several rhinestones missing. Moreover, she made sure she was wearing the perfume that Teddy remembered his mother wearing on their last Christmas together.

They hugged each other, and Dr. Stoddard whispered in Mrs. Thompson’s ear, “Thank you Mrs. Thompson for* believing in me. Thank you so much for making me feel important and showing me that I could make a difference.”

Mrs. Thompson, with tears in her eyes, whispered back. She said, “Teddy, you have it all wrong. You were the one who taught me that I could make a difference. I didn’t know how to teach until I met you.”

(For you that don’t know, Teddy Stoddard is the Dr. at Iowa Methodist Hospital in Des Moines that has the Stoddard Cancer Wing.)

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TRUTH OR FICTION

As well as being the recurring eternal optimist [usually in events involving sport and especially the south african cricket team] i have  side career as being the somewhat-irregular-skepticist and so i went straight to Uncle Google to see if the story was true. What is interesting is that there was a Teddy Stoddard at the Iowa Methodist hospital and it does indeed have the Stoddard Cancer Wing. That seems to be where the connection ends though – according to the internets, this beautiful story is just that – a story. You can see more at http://www.truthorfiction.com/rumors/t/teddy.htm

HOWEVER, just because this is not a true story, doesn’t mean we don’t have anything to learn from it.

I recently had a friend of mine email me the background story [current home situation] of some people I work with and it just changed everything around and helped make a lot of sense to certain other things that had been going on or attitudes presented. Hearing someone’s home story, relationship struggle or internal pain doesn’t always condone their actions, but often it at the very least helps explain them which often makes it easier for us to show, grace, patience and forgiveness.

But too often we don’t know the story. And so there is this:

pain2

i just heard what i thought was the most inspirationally thing on the book of facings today [i know, but it’s true!] where a friend shared that a few months ago they were at Lake Merritt [which is this stunning lake where all sorts of beautiful crazy things are always happening. Some people sitting at a table offering people a dollar to hear their stories. That sounds like such a great thing, and I am super keen to try it.

I admit it is a little random and maybe we can get a little more creative about how we do that with people we know, creating a space or forum for them to share. But just starting to change our mindsets [especially when we are tempted to judge people or be impatient with them] and realising that the people around us are probably masking some pain or discomfort at the moment. And how we can perhaps choose to be a little kinder and more gentle with them.

Hewbrews 12. 1-2  Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us,  fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.

I have occasionally run an activity when i have done a camp or church preach where before worship singing time i explain to everyone that, in the light of this verse from Hebrews, you are invited to write down your ‘everything that hinders’ or ‘the sin that so easily entangles’ you right at this moment. I also explain to them that before i start my speak i am going to read out what everyone wrote [so no surprises] but obviously without know who wrote what.

This has proved to be such a powerful exercise because as a church or camp community we get to have a glimpse of the struggles that the people around us are going through. Not many people arrive at church looking like they are struggling with adultery or losing their job or a serious health condition and so we tend to bury the story deep and put on our happy or neutral church face and then go and interact as if all is well before returning back home to whatever hidden pain or challenge[s] await us. But suddenly you hear about all of the crap that is being dealt with or faced by the people in the room and that can be so helpful as we start to realise what is really going on in the lives of the people around us.

WHERE DO I GET STARTED?

There is just so much that could be said on this, but maybe here are a few places to begin:

# When you hang out with your friends, do you tend towards superficial talk about movies, food, sports and music? Nothing wrong with any of these things per say, but if this the only way you spend time with your friends, why not consider creating some safe places to really just ask how people are doing, share your stories, listen to a point of pain.

# Relationships are an area that are often hugely under attack and pressure from all sides and we see how this plays out especially in the divorce rate. When last did you create a space for a couple you know well [can be dating, can be married, you can or can not be in a relationship] to invite them to share their story with you, to pay for them to have a date night, to offer to babysit their children for a day or a weekend so they can have some them time? 

# With someone not in a relationship there is the possibility for a lot of people that they don’t have ‘that person’ to share their stuff with. Why not invite someone out for a cup of coffee, a cycle, or over for a meal and give them a chance to just share how they are doing or if they have any points of pain at the moment [i imagine the closer your relationship is with them the more easily they will share]

i feel like a lot of this is just about creating the space or making the time. and if we get it right, this stuff can be revolutionary, it can be life-changing, it may even have the effect of preventing something like loneliness, addiction or even suicide.

story

Do any of you have a story to share about a time when someone showed interest in your story and what it meant to you?

‘We have heard with our ears, O God; our fathers have told us what You did in their days, in days long ago…’ [verse 1]

i found this a difficult psalm to grab a lot from, but one thing that jumped out at me was that line at the beginning which is such a powerful line. it reminds me of a contradictionary line found in Judges which says:

‘After that whole generation had been gathered to their ancestors, another generation grew up who knew neither the Lord nor what he had done for Israel. 11 Then the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord and served the Baals. 12 They forsook the Lord, the God of their ancestors, who had brought them out of Egypt. They followed and worshiped various gods of the peoples around them. They aroused the Lord’s anger 13 because they forsook him and served Baal and the Ashtoreths.’ [Judges 2.10-13]

this psalm stresses the importance of story-telling – in the days of the early church before they had printed copies of the bible in their hands [and before even the priests had copied versions of what we now see as scripture] they had to rely on story-telling – we see this on many occasions in the book of Acts with Peter and Paul and Philip and Stephen among those who share the story of Jesus and see peoples lives transformed.

but it is on an even more intimate level in families where we see the importance of this. so as to avoid a generation growing up who have not heard of God or the things He has done. we have to continue to speak out the stories of what God has done in our lives.

in fact in the book of Revelations verse 10-11 it says, ‘For the accuser of our brothers and sisters, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down. They triumphed over him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.’

talking about how the enemy is ultimately defeated, it mentions that it is by the blood of the Lamb [what Jesus did for us in dying on the cross] and by the word of our testimony [the stories of what Jesus has done in and through us] which is so powerful – it means that these testimonies, these stories of how God is at work in and through our lives, have the power to defeat the enemy.

don’t stop telling the stories. don’t stop living them!

[To return to the Intro page and be connected to any of the other Psalms i have walked through before now, click here]

so sunday nite i made a space for testimonies for people to share what God has been doing in their lives…

the second person who got up was a man named P (well not really, but let’s call him that for now) who i know pretty well from being around church and from having an amazing story of being homeless and God and the church bringing transformation in his life and so now he and often he and his wife gather with us for churching on sundays and he comes fairly often to enGAGE in the evenings

so he got up and shared a hectic testimony about his life over the last few years and his story of where he came from and how there was a guy threatening to rape his wife and this week he did and how P was able to deal with his anger and help get the guy caught by the police and a bunch of other stuff…

then this morning i find out in our staff meeting that there is actually another side of the story and that there have been some people in town walking a long (a few years) journey with him and that he is often lazy and doesn’t take the work he is offered (ranging from work in vineyards to leatherwork etc etc) and that at times he beats his wife and his kids and that the reason his kids were removed from him (part of the story last nite) was actually because of that and they don’t want anything to do with him – him and his wife were given a flat for 6 months or more and just completely didn’t take care of it and he hasn’t done a lot of the work he has been offered (in terms of being able to stay there) and so suddenly the story sounds a whole lot completely different

which is hard. and sucks. a lot.

tbV and i went a long way to help out a young suicidal homeless guy with a huge story a month or so ago and ended up buying him food and sponsoring him bus fare back home to his sister in mosselbay and waking up early in the morning to fetch him from the place we organised for him to sleep and he managed to call me in the morning when he needed a lift but never managed to make the call we asked him to make once he made it safely back to his sister and the number he gave us for his sister we never managed to get through on after numerous attempts

and it just makes it all very difficult to help – or even want to help – the next guy

but you have to. at least i think you do. or at the very least continue to take time to listen and hear the story and see if it is possible to help. we definitely can’t help everyone. but at the same time we definitely can’t not help anyone. and as i always say i would rather ultimately get ripped off for R20 or R200 bucks (especially with a good story – reward for creative story-telling i don’t mind paying for altho would help if we knew beforehand it was in the genre of fiction) than keep the money and risk not helping someone in serious need who does need the money (and i generally assume someone is probly going to spend the R20 or R200 better than i would anyways)

so curveball-ade it is…

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