This I believe…
I believe in the power of story. The power to heal, teach, or see a situation from an entirely new perspective. I‘m a school librarian at MacArthur Elementary in Binghamton, NY. A few years ago, in a failed attempt to save a branch public library, we attempted to share library space. It worked for all of 4 months when the budget axe fell. All of the public library books were boxed up and headed for storage. At the last minute, I was told to attend their board meeting and ask them to leave their furniture for us. Never have I witnessed such a contentious meeting! The director sounded like a fishwife, and I knew I was out of my depth. How could I make a request in such a negative atmosphere? I had no idea. Suddenly my turn had come in the agenda. I said: “This reminds me of a story…” All eyes turned to me, and there was silence. I told “Heaven and Hell,” a Chinese tale, where hell is described as a sumptuous meal on a large round table. Hungry people crowd around it, but, as they all have two-foot-long chopsticks, no one can get a single bite into their mouths. As a result, everyone is frustrated, angry, and ravenous: that’s hell. Oddly, heaven is exactly the same! However, in heaven, everyone is satisfied and well-fed. How can this be? At that meeting, no one could figure it out. Finally, one quiet voice said, “They feed each other.” “Yes! So that’s why I have come, so that your leftovers might “feed” the children of MacArthur.” More silence. Then, the director not only moved to have all the public library furniture remain at our school, but also all of the 2,000 children’s books! Stunned, I thanked everyone and left in a daze. I now knew the power of story!
On September 11, 2001, MacArthur was devastated. That Friday, I had to tell a story to the whole school assembly. I chose “The Bundle of Sticks,” a Middle Eastern tale about unity: A master rugmaker teaches his 3 quarreling sons about the wisdom of working together to make a Persian carpet, by handing each boy a stick and asking if they could break it. Easily, they all did. But when he gave each one a bundle of sticks, not one son could break it in two. ”So you see, ” he said: “Alone we are weak, but together, we are strong.” That story both healed and united us during a very difficult time.
Ever since, that story has become “MacArthur’s story.” So if you ever visit my school library, you will see a bundle of sticks hanging above my door. “Why,” you will ask, “is that hanging up there?!” And I will nod, and reply: “Ah, that is to remind us that ALONE WE ARE WEAK, BUT TOGETHER WE ARE STRONG.”
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