Our dear friend and Global Village Storyteller, Dr Brian Stork, shared the story with us of his involvement in the Michigan Road Scholars program. This unique program is a week-long opportunity for a diverse group of faculty to spend time away from their respective campuses and take a deep dive into communities around the State of Michigan.
A poet meets a local farmer in an art gallery in the west of Ireland. Once a year, the farmer, who lives on the shores of Loch Corrib, visits the gallery. The gallery owner introduces the two men. The poet points out the intricacies and hidden symbolism of the paintings as the farmer listens intently. When the poet finishes, the farmer thanks him and tells him he has a wonderful eye, which is a special gift. In return, the farmer shares a story of his own special gift – Teannalach.
“I live beside the lake and you always hear the ripple of the waters and the sound of wind on the water; everyone hears that. However, on certain summer days when the lake is absolutely still and everything is silent, I can hear how the elements and the surface of the lake make a magic music together.”
A few days later, the farmer’s neighbour comes into the gallery. The owner, recalling the conversation between the poet and the farmer, asks the neighbour what he knows about Teannalach. “Oh yes,” he says “They have that word up there. I’ve never seen it written down, so it’s hard to say what it means. I suppose it means awareness, but in truth it is about seven layers deeper.”
In the story, the gift of Teannalach, is a gift nurtured through daily practice. It’s rare, and also recognized and revered by others. The story, says, O’Donohue, “underlines the hiddenness of beauty, a beauty that dwells between the worlds which cannot be reached with known language or bare senses. It only reveals itself when the mind’s attention is radical and the imagination is finely tuned.”
Story adapted from John O’Donohue’s book, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace.
Nollaig na mBan is an old Irish custom, which goes back to the days when large families were the norm and men were not expected to help out with the women’s chores in the house. Tradition had it that each year, after the hard work of the Christmas festivities, their men folk would give women a break from the housework on January 6th.
Mainly a rural tradition, women would go out to celebrate the day with their friends, sisters, mothers, and aunts. Although Nollaig na mBan is slowly dying out in many parts of Ireland, overtaken by Mother’s Day; in some parts of Ireland, the tradition is still strong.
Here’s a most wonderfully nostalgic story of Women’s Christmas from the Wise Web Woman blog – perhaps it will bring back memories for some of you of days long passed into the mists of time.
The day of the Women’s Christmas women were supposed to take it completely easy after all the hustle, bustle and hard work of the prior months, with the men now taking care of them and cooking and cleaning all day. I can assure you that this never happened in my house as, like many men of his era, my father didn’t know one end of a broom from the other and boiling a kettle was the peak of his culinary skill.
However, my mother was the eldest female of her family so consequently her sisters, sisters-in-law, aunts and mother came around on that day and a smaller, daintier version of the Christmas meal was served. On the menu were: a bird (usually a fine roast chicken), a smaller lighter plum pudding and a lovely cake, usually dressed up in the fanciest of pink wrappers with silver sprinkles everywhere on the pink and white icing. The most delicate of my mother’s tea sets was brought out, my own favourite, the lavender and pale green set. I would love to hold one of these little saucers up to the light and put my hand behind it, as it was so fragile you would see all your fingers through it.
Gifts were exchanged, usually the most feminine of presents, perfume or talc, bottles of Harvey’s Bristol Cream were lined up on the sideboard and the fun would begin. I was encouraged by the grandmothers and great-aunts to always give my mother a little gift on that day for the woman that she was and I did, from a very early age. I would buy something small in Woolworth’s on Patrick Street, a little comb or my personal favourite, those fiercely aromatic bath cubes, which were a whole three pence each. I would wrap it up in layers and layers of newspaper and it was always exclaimed over with the phrase, “Well now, I can hardly wait to use this”!
The coal fire would be stacked up high and already lit in the front room before anyone arrived, with Bord na Mona briquettes piled on the fender around it, and any male showing his face would be banished to some other spot in the house.
I remember the women gabbing all day and in the heel of the evening getting into the stories and songs of which I never, ever tired. My female cousins and I would sense the privilege of being included in all of this, there was a respect in us and never did we exemplify more the ideal of children being seen and not heard than on that day. Unasked, we poured the drinks and ran outside to boil another kettle to make a fresh pot or brought in the sandwiches and the fairy cakes and the chocolates and exotic biscuits in the later part of the day.
I remember the hoots of laughter as my aunts dipped their ladyfinger biscuits into their sherries, letting us have a small sample of the incredible taste. This was the one day in the year that I could get a sense of how the older women in my family were when they were young girls themselves. Full of fun and music and stories. I learned about their old boyfriends and who courted them, how one of my uncles had dated all four sisters before settling on my aunt. How wild he was and how she tamed him.
I’d learn of the sad miscarriages and the stillbirths, the neighbours who went peculiar from the change or the drink, the priests who got spoiled in Africa and became pagan; or who had the failing, the old great grandaunt who took on fierce odd after her son married. I didn’t know what a lot of it meant then but I stored it all away to ponder on in later years.
They would dredge up old musical numbers from their single days and sing a few bars while one or two got up and showed off their dancing legs. Sweet Afton cigarettes were lit and my grandmother would puff on her dudeen and we all could hardly see each other for the clouds of smoke.
Stories were told and they would get caught up on all the doings they might have missed in their conversations all year, obscure marriages and births, sometimes in Australia or other far flung and exotic outposts of the Irish Diaspora. But most of all I remember the peals of laughter which resounded throughout the house all day and evening.
A moment would come in the midst of all the hilarity when the time for a spot of prayer came. Out of the big black handbags that never left their sides would come the rosaries. These would be threaded through their fingers and all the heads would bow in unison. I never knew the prayer and haven’t heard it since but it was to St Brigid, the women’s saint of Ireland, and it involved her taking all the troubles of the year before and parking them somewhere in heaven and thus they were never to be seen again. This was followed by a minute of silence (while St Brigid did what she was asked, I have no doubt), then a fervent “Thanks be to God and all His saints” and a reverent kiss on the cross of the various rosaries which were all tucked away carefully into the handbags again. Then the glasses of sherry or the cups of tea were refilled and the whooping and carrying on would begin afresh, the bothers and griefs of the past year now permanently banished and forever.
Image: rjnagle via Flickr
The soundtrack to my teenage years in the mid-eighties was filled with The Specials Nelson Mandela protest song; in school I spoke as captain of our debating team about the evils of apartheid in South Africa, and I witnessed the strike by 12 workers at Dunnes Stores in Dublin who protested for two and a half years, for the right not to handle goods from Apartheid South Africa. The dispute started when Mary Manning, a 21-year-old cashier, courageously refused to handle fruit from apartheid-era South Africa. Mary and her colleagues became a household name in South Africa and Mandela said that their stand helped keep him going during his imprisonment. Many years later when on honeymoon to South Africa, I had the opportunity to visit Robben Island where Nelson Mandela spent 27 years of his life in exile.
Nelson Mandela became for me and will remain the most iconic figure in my life time. In the eloquent words of Barack Obama he was a “man who took history in his hands and bent the arc of the moral universe towards justice.” The impressions made on us when we are young have such profound and lasting effects that it feels when something connected to that time is lost years later, that we also lose something of our youth. But it can also be an opportunity to reconnect with our youthful idealism. I am reminded of this again today, International Nelson Mandela Day, reading his quotes:
It is what difference we have made to the lives of others that determines the significance of the life we lead. ~ Nelson Mandela
Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.~Nelson Mandela
Our world is a poorer place for Nelson Mandela’s passing, but a far richer and better place thanks to his life – a reminder to us that we are capable of so much more in our lives and no longer settle for playing it otherwise.
This week’s featured Global Village storyteller is Scott J. Kolbaba, MD.
A doctor of internal medicine in Wheaton, Illinois, Dr Kolbaba is the author of Physicians Untold Stories: Miraculous experiences Doctors are hesitant to share with their patients, or ANYONE. Today we are featuring an inspirational story from the book.
Stephen J. Graham, MD
I wondered if the unusual tattoo on John Walters’s arm might be related to the sadness in his eyes. He was seeing me in the emergency department for abdominal pain. I was initially hesitant to ask him about the tattoo, but curiosity got the best of me.
“Is that a coin?” I asked, pointing to his forearm.
“Yes,” he said.
“That’s a little unusual,” I said tentatively, not wanting to offend him.
“It’s a dime,” he said. “I did it for my son, Robby.”
He paused and took a breath. I soon realized why I had struck such a deeply emotional chord.
“He was killed,” he said as he stopped again to compose himself. “It was terrible, an accident on the expressway over ten years ago. He was my…only son. He loved coins and had an incredible coin collection. We would go through the change together to find the pennies, nickels, and dimes for his collection books. My wife and I would give him the rarer coins for his birthday and Christmas. His favorite collection was dimes, and he had an unusual knack for finding them everywhere. We would go to a Cubs game, and he would find a dime under his seat or on the sidewalk outside his favorite storefront Christmas window. Whenever we did anything special together, he would find a dime. It was really uncanny.
“I know you probably won’t believe this, but after he left us, I started finding dimes too. Anytime I do something that would have been special for him, I find a dime—vacations, dinners out, sporting events. They appear on the floor, under a plate, or anywhere. I can almost count on it now, and I think it’s his way of communicating. He looks out for me, like my guardian angel. I wanted Robby to know that I knew he was there, so I put this tattoo on my arm. If you look at it, the year is Robby’s birth year, and his name is right here, R-O-B-B-Y.”
“That’s a touching story,” I said, trying not to show my skepticism, while at the same time wishing it really was true. But it was true for John, and that was the important thing.
After I finished his exam, John went for a CT scan, which revealed a minor infection.
“I have good news,” I told him after the radiologist called with the report. “You won’t need to be admitted to the hospital. It’s a simple infection. I’m going to give you some antibiotics, and you need to follow up with your regular physician in three days. Oh, thanks for sharing Robby’s story with me,” I said as I turned to walk out of his room.
“I had a feeling you could help me,” he said. “Thanks.”
John’s story resonated in my mind, but I still couldn’t get myself to accept that a loved one could communicate from the other side.
I made my way back to the doctor’s dictation area where patients have no access. As I sat down at my computer to complete his notes, something on the floor caught my eye. I reached for it. A dime!
A sudden eerie feeling came over me. Then I smiled.
“Thanks, Robby,” I said under my breath, “for looking out for your dad…and for helping me believe.”
After being awarded a degree in economics from Cornell College and serving with the Marine Corps Reserves, Scott Kolbaba completed his medical degree at the University of Illinois and graduated with honors. He interned with Rush-Presbyterian St. Luke’s Medical Center and completed his residency at the Mayo Clinic. He is a member of the Alpha Omega Alpha Honor Medical Society.
Visit www.physiciansuntoldstories.com or order his new book at Physicians Untold Stories: Miraculous experiences Doctors are hesitant to share with their patients, or ANYONE on Amazon now.
As we contemplate the first blank page of this New Year, we are excited to anticipate how you will fill the pages of the next twelve months with your stories. We’d love you to share those stories with us here so that we can continue to build a community resource for anyone interested in the power of storytelling.
This year will be a big one for the Global Village as we grow and expand our network and we are looking forward to growing alongside you in the coming year. Please help us grow our community by connecting with us on Twitter and Facebook. And do get in touch and let us know how how we can help you grow a storytelling culture in your organisation in 2017.
Here’s to a super new year of storytelling!
This week’s featured Global Village storyteller is Naomi Brook.
Naomi is from Coventry, UK. She has biological family all over the country but also friends who feel like family nearer to home. She is passionate about having a healthy lifestyle (that involves plenty of homemade cake!) and researches, coaches and participates in social movement ways of improving communities.
Now read Naomi’s story for the Global Village of Storytelling.
Walking back from the train station recently, I decided to take a longer route home, through the Park. I had just spent a day in Birmingham, brain frazzled from staring at my laptop and contemplating statistical analysis. A friend had posted on a podcast a WhatsApp group about Labi Siffre’s song, ‘something inside so strong’. I clicked on the link and while i listened I walked up past the grand private school, along a small park by the road, and into the Park with the Memorial rising up in front of me.
The podcast was talking about a choir that had formed with singers from all backgrounds of life. They had decided to sing the song, ‘something inside so strong’. I soon had tears running down my face as I zig zagged between the trees and across the grass – this way avoiding too many people seeing me! Each person had experienced such life changing experiences, from family illness leading to homelessness, to long term mental health issues to racism and homophobia.The are lyrics so poignant – ‘refuse to hear my voice, the louder I will sing’ and ‘you thought that my pride was gone’ also made me think of my recent experiences. One being that three months previously I’d been sitting on a nice big corner sofa in my three bedroomed house in Warwick, also with tears streaming down my face. People had since told me that splitting up with my husband was incredibly brave but whilst listening to that podcast, walking round the park i felt pretty humbled. Yes, I’d done something difficult and life changing but I’d done it with money in the bank and friends to help me. These others stories weren’t just on this podcast though; they might be with the guy in the grey hoodie and the German Shepherd who just walked past me, or the old lady who just got off from the bus, or they might even be a close friend who’s never had the opportunity to tell it.
I was imagining all these stories emanating from people in the park, and wondering what could be different – what action might people take, or take differently if they heard them? Just like when hearing the lyrics my thoughts were stirred. Then, as I was getting towards the end of the podcast and my walk, with my bag starting to feel heavy with my laptop in it and the feeling of damp sweat at the bottom of my back, it hit me: it didn’t matter that my story wasn’t life changing ‘enough’. It only matters that I’m prepared to tell it. And other people are prepared to tell theirs. So I have decided to make it my life’s work to make these stories heard to make the most impact.
To enable people to tell them in a way that asks others to take action, not just sit in a big lecture hall, clap and say ‘nice story, thank you’. But to tell their friends, neighbours, community groups in run down centres with crooked chairs, their suited and booted bosses and their members of parliament – and yes, this last one has actually happened!
Maybe you have been through something that has changed the course of your life. Maybe you know people with a mental health condition, or you’ve felt stressed because of the hundreds of emails (or WatsApp messages!) you have to read, or maybe you have or are experiencing a physical long term health condition, or you know what it’s like to have sprained your ankle and have to hobble around for a few weeks. We all have stories we can use to relate to others, that can encourage or help motivate change
So use your story that will connect with others around your chosen campaign, topic or area of interest. Whether you’ve had parents separate, been the parents who’ve separated, had therapy, started Salsa, or had the experience of turning up to Parkrun for the first time, we’ve all had the experience of something that led to our lives changing So don’t lose the chance to tell – what really are – your precious stories, and to hear the stories that others carry. Together we can use these to engage with others like we never have before, and enable them to realise that we all have something strong inside ourselves, and that something is a story.
This week’s featured Global Village storyteller is Audrey Birt.
From Scotland, Audrey is a coach and health activist, committed to developing heartful leadership and supporting transformation in health and care and within individuals.
In 2016, Audrey was diagnosed for the third-time with cancer and shares our experience on her self-titled blog.
Now read Audrey’s story for the Global Village of Storytelling.
It’s a year now since my third diagnosis of breast cancer. Yes that’s right, third. Once is unlucky, twice is a shock, third is more wtf! But it’s still a primary cancer so bizarrely I feel lucky. But none the less it’s been a tough year and over the last few months I’m gradually accepting that this is just my story.
And like most stories it has a beginning, a middle and an end. And this is still the middle, the meat in the sandwich, the arc of the narrative, the -to be continued- rather than the end. Thank goodness. Sort of. Because I don’t know the rules for a three times diagnosis. It’s not the end that much I know. It’s not even the beginning of the end as far as I know. It’s more of an oops I did it again and this time meant a mastectomy and reconstruction. A flipping great scar across more that half my body, a reconstructed breast that is quite amazing and a stamina that was left on the operating table.
So this year has been the gradual acceptance of my new reality, a painful back and slight limp at times and an increase in breathlessness when I’m overtired. And a slow return to strength which is feeling more sustainable. And a gradual re-prioritising has shaped my year. I’ve had really wonderful family and friends time this year as well as been involved with some really great work that I’ve enjoyed immensely. I’ve focused on what brings me joy and realised that’s not only social time it’s also some of the work I do.
If I have one word to symbolise this year it’s been connection. Connection to people I love has been a vital, life-giving, force for me. I’ve found joy in so many things, from dinners round the table, to singing together, to watching sunsets on a beautiful balcony, to fireworks set to music, to a family treat to Rome; it’s been wonderful. I’m deeply grateful for those times and how precious they are.
Internally too it’s about connection as I’m probably more connected to what’s important to me than ever before. I’m trusting myself to follow what’s right and letting go of controlling the outcomes of this life story. I’m navigating the waves of the storm more confidently than ever before. I admit to getting sea-sick now and again and weary too but strangely enough I’m not scared.
Finally I’m accepting the words of The Anthem by Leonard Cohen, that wonderful story teller, who I’ve grieved for this year.
Ring the bell that still can ring, forget your perfect offering, there is a crack in everything…..it’s how the light gets in.