telling stories

I just saw this video of Joe Biden today. Reminded again of many things. First of all, how articulate and wise Joe Biden is. He makes a lot of “gaffes,” but I think it’s because he’s not afraid to speak his mind or speak from the heart. And, honestly, I’ve learned that what comes from the heart goes to the heart. It might not always be what we think others want to hear, but when are we going to get tired of robotic politicians who always have a pre-determined line or some sort of watchword they’ve been working on to speak to some sort of “base?” When are we going to reach out and understand that being authentic is worth so much more being contrived? (1)

The reason 12-step programs work is that it’s one former sufferer reaching out to another and the person who has recovered has personally gone through what the person they are approaching is currently experiencing or just been through. It’s not out of studying or speculation or good intentions. It’s because they have actual experience with going through the depths of addiction and then taking some specific actions to recover and then being able to relate those experiences (both before recovering and after) to the person who is struggling with a drinking problem, or hopefully, with trying to get sober.

Better yet, when someone comes to a meeting and hears someone “share” or “give a lead” in front of other people, there’s something so powerful in the telling of a personal story. There’s so many elements to it. There’s the personal identification that comes from hearing someone share their most intimate feelings, secrets, and hardships and being able to go, “I’ve also felt like that. I’ve never been able to articulate it. I’ve been afraid to tell anyone else because they wouldn’t understand. I’ve always felt alone and isolated. I’ve never felt like I fit in with anyone else because of these things.” There’s the relief that comes from hearing someone else tell the things you thought you would never hear another person say out loud — and hear them sharing it from a podium, in front of 100, 200 people — because it no longer cuts them to the bone; because they no longer have to live and die by the specters of their past.

It’s not unique to recovery programs, of course. The myth of and the power in telling stories has crossed generations and countries and ages. There’s a reason we see the same archetypes and go over the same sorts of ideas in our stories;  in books, in movies, in television. But something transformative happens when we pass stories down orally — when we pass down our experiences in person, with ritual, in groups. There’s something that exists in our collective consciousness and unconsciousness that takes that story and makes it bigger than the sum of its parts. I’m convinced of this because I’ve been a part of it, both passively and actively.

And for our Vice President to get up before a bunch of wounded living — people who have lost their relatives to the permanence of war — and share his personal story of grief with them is astounding. It’s a picture of courage and truth and honor and valor and love that should not go unnoticed. And I don’t believe he did it to gain favor with anyone; in fact, he knew that what he was sharing would make him vulnerable to all sorts of ad hominem attacks on his character. But he did it anyway — he called it out in the middle of  his speech — because he wanted to give a little something to those who were suffering. He wanted to turn his past to good account. He knew that it was the least he could do. Not to mention, it was just probably one thing that he could turn to out of a situation that clearly still caused him great heartache and sorrow that he could point to and say, “maybe this can make it a little bit better.”

He shared with them his grief. He shared with them his anger. He shared with them tips on day-to-day living. He shared with them how difficult it was to deal with people. But the most important thing he shared with them was his humanity. He related to them on a personal level. The thing that struck me that was so like sitting in a coffee club meeting was when he shared how he hated to hear people tell him that they “knew how he felt” when his wife and daughter died, and the crowd just laughed and laughed. They laughed out of identification at something that should seemingly be just tragic, but there is a part of the human spirit that is so glad to find a kindred spirit, that we can’t help but to agree in joy.

Watch the video. Watch it all the way through. I couldn’t help but cry for a million reasons. I would only hope that Mr. Biden could help our President see that we have to make sure he doesn’t have to go to any more of these functions. (2) But if he does, I hope that he doesn’t change a thing. I hope that he keeps being himself, and he keeps telling his truth. It’s what sets us free and it’s what helps others get free, too. It’s what helps them see a light and have hope that if he can live again, they can, too.

Peace and love, Mr. Biden. Peace and love to you and yours.

(1) And let’s be real. For as much as I’ve loved and been disappointed with and fluctuated in my emotions and swooned over and been hurt by and felt enamored of Obama, that whole recent gay marriage scene wouldn’t have gone down the way it did without Biden shooting his mouth off. And by that, I mean just saying what he feels and means without having to self-censor constantly. So, good looking out for all the rest of us who just want someone to be a normal person, Joe. Good looking out.

(2) And I edit this, today, Memorial Day — there’s a picture that’s been making the rounds lately. Here it is, along with the story to accompany it. This story breaks my heart and just makes me weep. I’ve never lost someone to war, but just like when I sobbed in Fahrenheit 911, the thing that kills me is that we shouldn’t be there. War is tragic and awful enough, but to think that we shouldn’t be there in the first place, that these lives are being just wasted — tossed away for nothing — is just too much for me to take.  I’m a pacifist, no doubt, but I suppose there could be some situations I could get behind a war. But not these. We’re sending people to slaughter and be slaughtered for nothing. And the “collateral damage” is more than we can count. Lives lost, lives ruined and all the other lives damaged because we don’t have the money to support programs we need to make their lives better. It’s heartbreaking every way you look at it.

5 thoughts on “telling stories

  1. Oh dear god, I wish we had engaging “human” politicians like that in the country where I live. What a moving speech. His recommendations could be used in other kinds of greif too, I reacted in similar ways when my marriage ended. I grieved the loss if it like it was a death of sorts.

  2. Another chowderhead speaking from the heart. Polish death camps? Nice. Maybe tweedledumb and dumber should go back to speaking from the brain. On second thought maybe not.

  3. “I know more about Judaism than any president ever, after all I have a lot of Jewish friends”. Another comment from the heart. At least some of the staunchest liberals and Obama backers I know are fed up with this guy. Will hey vote for Romney? No, but they will stay home, or vote for some 3rd oarty goof. Either way it’s bad for the chosen one.

  4. Jocelyn,

    Write what goes on in your head. That is what we found interesting.

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