Reflecting on Storytelling as Healing

Thinking about storytelling and what it means to me.

Since my husband Jim died in 2012 I spend time at Arlington National Cemetery. The first weeks I sat on my canvas stool and cried. Then I began to use our time together there to remember our story and our 57 years together - until one day I fully realized that I was sitting beside Jim, yes, but that this was my grave too. When the time comes I too will move into 7424 Roosevelt Drive.

And for me -
at 77 years old it could be any time. I know - we could all die at any time - that's the life scenario - but let's face it after you enter the 7th decade death feels closer.

The day I accepted Arlington as my "forever home" I looked up and around at the field of white stones in Section 35. I was surrounded by stories and I did not know any of them. Except the names on the tombstones on either side of Jim. I recognized those two guys. They were buried in 1964 - the same week that our daughter was buried here. Jim and I often said we should find out who they were - but our lives were busy and we never did look for their stories.

Now I could. That was the place to start. And I did.

And that started me looking for stories not just in Section 35 - Arlington itself became the subject - its history, the daily workings of the place, the people who work there, the visitors - as well as the people buried there. You know all the articles on moving advise you to check out the new neighborhood before you move in -

My search for stories has been very fruitful - for finding stories and for finding my way back into living again. To set me on a path of moving forward until the day I do move in to 7424 Roosevelt Drive. Some people were surprised when I wove what I was finding into a story - a one-person show, Arlington National Cemetery, My Forever Home. I knew that Jim would not be a bit surprised and I often feel that he urges me forward on it - just as he encouraged me forward on all my storytelling work.

 But, I did not understand that making
my Arlington story would actually be part of the healing for me. Looking up and out, talking to people, and meeting new people who share my heart-connection to Arlington has broadened my horizons and opened my eyes to a wider world. I have met people I would never have met and heard stories that touch my heart and open me to a deeper appreciation of cost of the Military Service I say 'Thank You" for.

 The catch-phrase "a story is the shortest distance between two people" is often used to talk about the importance of storytelling. I use it myself - but now I am living it. Whenever I meet another family member at Arlington and say " I am visiting my husband are you visiting someone?" a story opens, a connection is made, and a bridge is built. I am truly grateful for this opportunity to know my neighborhood and to learn the stories before I move in.

 However, I have to tell you - the connections for me with Arlington are becoming quite surprising. I am working on a new one-person show which I hope to present at the 2014 Capital Fringe. It features 3 women. One is my great-grandmother, one a famous author, and the 3rd - a woman I know because 25 years ago I bought a dusty box of miscellaneous papers in a second-hand book shop in Charlotte, NC. It was filled with discards from an old woman's attic. Last month the librarians in the Carolina Room at the Charlotte Public Library helped me find some information about the woman in the letter. I felt a bit shaken when they told me she is buried with her husband in Section 3 at Arlington National Cemetery - 2 blocks from Jim (and me, eventually). Feels like a connection doesn't it?

No comments: