This I believe-Let Me Tell You a Story
I believe we connect through telling stories.
A holocaust survivor in a hospital bed with numbers branded onto his arm—he barely betrays the silence of the years since the holocaust, instead speaking proudly of his grandson, a well known actor from the 80’s that snaps me back to the present day. When pushed to share the details about the branded numbers, he speaks of hiding in the woods, helped by a man who spoke Russian. Then he mentions his wife. “I met her during the Holocaust you know”, which makes sense when any whisper of life in the face of genocide is the storybook ending you cling to. His esophageal cancer seems like a cruel irony compared to his extraordinary journey thus far. I am riveted sitting next to him by his hospital bed, honored to have heard his story.
A man who can no longer speak due to his disease, a 50 year old shell of a former well-known engineer who taught at Boston University. His father is his caretaker and his voice, yet I want to ‘hear’ my patient’s story however it can be told. I am regrettably a witness to the end of his story. His eyes tell me of deep sorrow at losing this final battle with his lifelong syndrome. However, the final chapter is one he scripts when he chooses to no longer be fed by a tube through his stomach, repeatedly pulling out the tube in protest. The day before he dies I stand next to him, shaking with conviction and humility, and tell him that I understand the choices he was making, that his dad would be okay without him, and that it was okay for him to go. I also thank him for letting me be part of his life. The next day upon hearing of his death I am acutely aware of the honor I was bestowed.
What book should we read tonight? My father was my earliest storyteller. He was the taxi ride to my imagination and the gatekeeper to my dreams. Sure we’d read the same stories every night but I’d greet Cat in the Hat or Amelia Bedelia like the friends they had become, forgetting the darkness that clouded the days of my parent’s divorce. Laughter, innocence, and escape were themes I ached for and stories never failed to deliver. My father a writer himself would inspire me to want to be part of people’s stories, to bear witness and to honor people’s lives.
As a medical social worker I’ve fulfilled these aspirations. To witness a story has been more powerful than applying theories or analysis to the intimacies that people have shared. The power is in the mutual recognition that each of us has a story to tell and that it takes courage to share from the deepest corners of our lives and honor in being the one granted access to those corners.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.