I Just Had To…

Drawing by S., CP Elementary student
“I stayed in from recess to make this for you.”

She reached out tentatively to hand me a water-color drawing she had made. She being a 6th grade student who had been in the first class I performed for that morning.

“I just had to do this. When you told the story about the two sisters with one’s name like mine and the harp made of bones, I had to draw this.”
What a picture: there was my harp, me, and three of the stories I’d told! She’d heard, she’d listened, she’d thought.
No wonder I do this.

When I was in Juvenile Detention last week, the jail facility for kids under age eighteen, I was in the library waiting for my first class of kids. One of the boys saw me from the hallway and snapped, “Oh f—.” Not the usual response when kids see me, I am happy to report, however, it was his that morning. The boys trooped in and sat down in the semi-circle of chairs facing me. He pulled his tee shirt up to below his eyes, crossed his arms, and looked down at his feet, legs stretched out in front of him. Thirty minutes of stories and music later, he was sitting up asking questions, and forty minutes later he was telling me how he would have changed one part of the folktale from Ecuador I had just told them. After the Haitian tale, “One My Darlin,” he made a comment about forgiveness, which started a discussion among the boys.

No wonder I do this.

Jill Johnson, an accomplished writer, teacher, storyteller, and actor, wrote about when she was telling to and with elders in Auckland, New Zealand in February of this year, that when she saw the elders tell family stories, the youth listening, and the priceless connection being made, she said, “THIS …. is why I do this work.”

I get it more clearly every time I perform lately – telling and making music for elementary school kids, incarcerated kids, or my neighbor. The connecting, the re-discovering the truth that people have common elements of being human be they from China, Patagonia, Egypt, Saskatchewan, or Iceland. You never know what will reach someone. My part, and privilege, is to deliver the story, keep out of the way the best I can, and let the story spin out its storyness.