The Power of Story

Today on September 11, I have read several moving stories from the day twelve years ago that changed us all forever. One part of me does not enjoy reliving such a traumatic time, but another part of me is drawn to these stories, and I feel liberated by them.

On Rosh Hashanah Eve, the sermon at my synagogue was titled, "The Story of Us." In it, Rabbi Elyse Wechterman talked about the power of communal narrative:

"...creating a shared narrative for the community is what brings people together and gives them a way to connect their individual story to the larger story unfolding around them. "

This power of a story was already on my mind because of an  On Being podcast I listened to last week about healing from trauma. According to Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk, one of the hallmarks of unhealed trauma is that the brain doesn't allow a story to be created. Instead, it remains stuck with memories etched in vivid detail, unchanged over many years. Normally, our memories change (even if we don't want to admit it), but when we're traumatized we are unable to allow our memories to become a story that we tell and retell and allow to transform. 

With that in mind, I felt something inside me change and relax. So it's okay to tell stories about traumatic events! In fact, it's a sign of health and a big opportunity for healing. So often I feel reticent to talk about my most difficult moments. I feel afraid that everyone close to me has already heard too much about it. I am afraid of my need to retell my stories, but when I do, I always learn something new. I bring new life experience to the memory and with it a new telling of the story.

I don't have much of a 9-11 story, although certain elements of that day are indelibly etched in my memory: Clutching my older son, then a toddler, in my arms as I watched tv coverage of the towers burning. The silent, clear blue skies. And few days later, a beautiful rainbow arching across the sky.

I am grateful that on this day each year, we are willing to hear each other's stories, that we make room for grief and for healing. And I pray that we can bring this same sort of attention to other more invisible, silent losses and traumas. May we all have a chance to tell our stories and be heard. 


The Expanse, 1/26/07

The Expanse, 1/26/07