Tonight is the first night of Chanukah, a time to both light candles and share the story of the courageous Maccabees and the miracle of the oil that, against all odds, lasted for eight nights. When my children were young, often in classes where, as Jewish children, they were in the minority, I went to their classrooms each year. I shared the story of Chanukah, I showed a chanukiah and distributed cookies in the shape of dreidels and stars. Although the kids might say differently (with cookies as the most important thing!), for me the story was, and is, the most vital element.
Like the story of Chanukah, so many of our stories are shared in an oral tradition. We pass them down from generation to generation, repeating them over and over until we tell the stories much as our parents told us and much as our children will tell children of their own. While the nuances may change and the language may shift, the stories are the same at their core and the themes and messages not just shared but preserved.
As we all know, storytelling is a powerful tool for communication. It’s one of the most effective ways to engage people, capturing their interest in what is being told in a way few other communication tools can do. Stories help people to grow in understanding and they often elicit a deeper and more lasting personal and emotional response. We can teach through stories and we often do.
Yet, as I look around at the world of older adults, I cannot help but think about how many stories there are and how many of them are lost. Each of us has our own journey in life, filled with joys and also sorrows, achievements and disappointments, inspiration and frustration. Our stories are uniquely our own, they are based not only on our own experiences but also our perception of that experience and that makes them profoundly distinct. When we have not asked for the stories, when we have not taken the time to capture them, those stories are lost to us forever, irretrievable and irreplaceable.
Perhaps you have sat at a funeral, as I have, and heard things about the older person that amazed you. Perhaps you have, as is the case for me, lost parents very young and still wish that you could have known more about their lives, their feelings, their goals, their substance. And perhaps an older person in your life has tried to tell you their story, or repeated a story over and over, so that you have closed your ears and your mind to what they have to say.
What if you took some time and asked your loved ones to tell you a story about their life? You could theme your questions around growing up, their career, how they met their spouse and more. You could ask those questions that lead to serious answers—what are you most proud of; are there things in your life you would have done differently; what makes you happy; what do you want to tell future generations and many others. The options are nearly endless. You could save these stories, in written form, recorded on your phone, in whatever way works for you. So that, no matter what, they would not be lost.
If we learned one small part of an elder’s story, if we shared it and preserved it for generations to come, not only would we, I think, honor their lives and share their knowledge but we would enrich our lives immeasurably as well.