By Laura Simms
I organized a salon series called PASSIONATE CONVERSATIONS – The Power of Storytelling. The first took place May 20th. Two Australian storytellers were in the city: CAROLINE JOSEPHS and DONNA JACOBS SIFE. They swept us up in a storied palaver about peacemaking, personal story, healing and the support of women and ancestors. Caroline spoke about her experience with Aboriginal women. When asked about their lives and myths, they in turn asked about her ancestors. She recanted the history of her Jewish family moving from intolerance and pogrom, from place to place, over three generations. The women moved beside her, stroking her arms and singing. Caroline sang a haunting chant bringing us into the presence of their empathetic response…they had sung their kindness into her body. “The women understood dislocation. They gave me back my history.” As Caroline spoke, the room grew alive with feeling and calm with listening. More than any explanation we accessed what it is to be realigned by story.
Then Donna told us two tales representing her philosophy of commitment to human rights and justice. We moved into the cities where immigrants, refugees, residents and aborigines come together not always in peaceful abiding. Through storytelling she makes space for opinion, prejudice and love to be heard as the healing itself. The common ground is unbiased listening; allowing all to be spoken and heard without judgment. Then she shared a version of Dame Ragnall. And, described the end of the story as the beginning of everyone’s stories; in their life have they known the loss of sovereignty?
The evening flowered into discussions. For some it was a first encounter with how traditional stories bring one into relationship to reality; for some it was a meeting of ancestral story and a revelation about mythology. A practitioner of Nonviolence remarked that he was able to listen without analysis. How vital that was.
We were all engaged and present with each other regardless of differences – drawn to a sense of land and body, narrative and natural world. Twenty five people attended.
To start, I retold a tale from India. I offered two endings: one from the text, and another heard in Mumbai…. about a woman who had a story that she never told and a song she never sang. They grew tired of being unshared. The story became a pair of men’s shoes; the song, a man’s overcoat, on her verandah. Her husband, returning home, assumed it was a lover and left to sleep in a temple. In the night, the flames of offering candles came to gossip. They told the true story of what happened. The man rushed home, filled with apology. Whe asked for her song and story, she said, “I cannot tell them. They have left my body.” But in Mumbai, the story and the song were told. I loved beginning with possibilities – neither right or wrong – the open space of listening becoming the ground for hearing without needing solutions.
The next Salon is June 21, AFTERWORDS IN THE AFTERMATH with Memoirist Joyce Zanona and myself – stories after disasters of all kinds. (www.laurasimms.com)
Laura Simms is an award winning performer, writer, and educator advocating storytelling as compassionate action for personal and community transformation. Laura will receive the NSN ORACLE Award for Lifetime Achievement at the National Storytelling Conference (June 27-July 1, Cincinnati): www.storynet.org/conference.
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