Starting with One True Thing

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Blog written by: Kris Lord; Team RWB SF Veteran Outreach/Engagement Director

The snow fell in big soft flakes outside of Wilderness cabin, on what was our third and final day of storytelling camp in Northern Michigan.  Outside of the cabin windows, we could see the outlines of the muskrat-inhabited lagoon and the wooden bridge through the snow.  And it was fitting that on the day we would share our stories – stories we had been mulling over and chewing on and silently practicing in our minds and notebooks – we were surrounded by a hushed and respectful silence in the outside world.

Storytelling Camp
I heard stories of sadness, of joy amidst chaos, of resiliency and survival.  We had been told many times over the weekend that each person has a story worth telling.  That there is no need for one-upping, and especially one-downing – a trait many of us seem to share, thinking that our story isn’t important enough to tell.  Our leaders this weekend put forth tremendous effort to guide us. David Chrisinger led us through different exercises with skill and humility, teaching us that telling our story is akin to bringing others into our confidence – that our stories can be acts of letting others in, and a sharing of wisdom we’ve earned through experiences.  I was profoundly moved by his simple statement: ‘Start with one true thing’.  Build from there.  We are all capable of doing that.  Zack Armstrong, an insightful and compassionate leader, trusting us with his story as we were trusting him and the others, showed us that he was equally moved by all that we shared.  Joe Quinn, with his humanness and humor, never deviating from his message that we are all worthy of being heard, encouraged us as leaders to set that example of being worthy.

“My life is changed after this weekend”, was uttered more than once, in the context of feeling one’s story was worth telling, or having the experience of interacting with those previously avoided turn out to be a positive one.  We came from so many different backgrounds, and found common ground not only in spite of, but born of unique experiences, and that did more to bridge any divide than many thought possible.  There was an acknowledgement of our differences with a genuine appreciation for the individual journey.

As with my other Team RWB camp experiences, it was the moments in between that added a layer to the bonds that were starting to be built.  Talk over coffee before class yielded glimpses of wisdom and intriguing depths in the person next to me.  During a mid-morning break, marveling with another teammate at a dragonfly perched outside of the cabin door, warming itself as the air slowly thawed, while we appreciated the shimmer of its wings.  Laughing at both strikes and gutter balls, and picking up unflattering but well-deserved nicknames at the bowling alley.

There have been many incredible shares already by my campmates, and I can only echo their sentiments, and add my own impressions.  I’ve been processing the experience, and each time I think, ‘OK, I’ve got it.  I know what I want to say’, one of my campmates does something brave, or displays an act of leadership that impacts me.  Did our time together at camp have anything to do with those things?  Our combined experience of being seen and heard, and supported with empathy but not pity?  I hope so.  I see a ripple effect with this camp, that began with a pebble in Wilderness Lagoon, starting small and expanding outward in soft waves, and I can’t help but wonder what might be possible if the storytelling were to spread and continue.

After this weekend, I see that not only is it important to share our story, but the act of ‘holding space’ for others to do the same is an incredible opportunity to grow in more than one direction.  The act of empathetic listening is a gift that we can give, and the mark of a great leader.  This camp offered us opportunities to do both – each time one of us was brave enough to stand up to share, the room went quiet; and afterwards, there was a respectful silence as we sat with what we’d heard, until the next person stood.

I went to camp a very grateful observer, and came home a changed participant.  As David said, even if our stories wind up in a drawer, never having been read by another, it’s OK.  I believe the act of letting them out – whether the medium is verbal, written, or artistic – gives us space to look at them, and potentially change the hold they have on us.