29 November was a special day. Anna Boo and I met to complete something we had started months ago.
I met Anna through the Thye Hua Kuan Moral Society. And I started listening to her life story. She did a photo montage (three folders full!) of h
er life, and every time we met, I listened to her tell me the stories behind the photos. Her photos were accompanied by captions, inspiring quotations, etc that she wrote.So I was a witness – a witness to her journey, her beauty, her strengths. And wow, she has some amazing strengths in Love, Wisdom, Courage, Resilience. I was deeply moved by her spirit.I asked her how she felt about this project and she said:“I enjoyed collecting the pictures and putting them together because it has rekindled my creativity. It has brought back my love for writing. It’s meaningful. If you just keep photos in your album, it’s not interesting. If you plan and organise it in this way, at the end, you have something Amazing.Everyone has the potential to do this. Sometimes the years just ago by and we work, and become mothers and wives. But this project is about YOU.It’s a JOY to be able to complete this…a Great Achievement.”To me, Anna is the great achievement herself.
We were strangers. And now I am a witness to her life. And today she said to keep in touch even though the project is over…so we can be friends…
Be a witness to someone’s life. Listen to their story. We can do that everyday. And especially if someone is unkind to you, remember that they too have a story…they too would have strengths…and a folder full of memories.
This is Jean Marie Rose De Souza, a lovely senior citizen I met through the The Thye Hua Kwan Moral Society. Inspired by StoryCorps, I spent time with Jean over a few weeks listening to her life story and supporting her to draw images capturing parts of it.
In stories lie precious gems of wisdom, joys, pain, a country’s history and clues to who we are. As I listened to Jean’s story, I listened for her strengths, her joys, special memorable moments and life lessons. I then reflected these back to her, and we picked a few images she could draw to visually capture some of what she had shared. She enjoyed drawing and I enjoyed sitting with her, and watching her and chatting with her about how her week had been.
By the end of our time together, I was struck with the thought: “If I could learn so much from one stranger, imagine how many stories lie within all of us, waiting to be heard, acknowledged and mirrored back?”
Not everyone may be open to us listening to their life story in a structured way like this. But we can ask in other other casual ways, like over a meal, about memories, favourite things they used to do when they were younger etc. This is especially so with people we think we know “everything” about; people we take for granted. Often, there’s alot more to be discovered about them – we just haven’t asked.
I have started little snatches of life story listening with my family members, and I notice that they talk about it so easily and happily. I wish you similar moments of meaningful connection with your loved ones. If you don’t know what to ask, check out Storycorp’s Question Generator for ideas. You could even record a story of a loved one as a keepsake.
The most enjoyable part for me, as a strengths practitioner, is to reflect back to people the beauty and strengths I see in them. I like witnessing people in this way.
Enjoy Connecting and Listening Deeply to the treasures in stories around you. :)
And of course, get someone to listen to yours too! It starts with you.
PS: I am grateful to the ever-inspiring Barbara Becker, my favourite former professor at Columbia Uni, for introducing StoryCorps to our class. She blogs at Beyond Siri and blogged about her experiment to live as if it was her last year to live at Last Year to Live.