rhythms

The Stories We Tell and The Stories We Don't

Since my post "Everyone Has A Story" the concept of life stories has been at the forefront of my thoughts. I've been thinking about this part (the part I'm living through right now) of my story because, honestly, I have a lot of time to think right now. Before I go into my story in the present, I want to share how I became aware of the stories each of us have. A couple of years ago I started working as a music therapist at a rural hospital...25 beds. It was the first hospital gig I had, and I was the first staff music therapist they had. I had some ideas about what a hospital MT should do, but there was a lot of feeling my way through things on the beginning.

Within the first week or two, I figured something out that shaped the way I have lived as a healer and a music therapist ever since. It was at this time that I realized that yes, everyone has a story to tell but, most of the people I served were willing to tell me their story.

I have been told for years that I am easy to talk to. One of my co-workers told me I have "listening eyes." I found is person to be quite intelligent and quite insightful, so I trust her judgment.

Regardless, I soon figured out that music was the gateway for many of those patients to share their stories with me. A familiar song provided a sense of comfort, or perhaps triggered reminiscence. Often these people would discuss their concerns about their state of health, talk about the good old days going to dances with their spouse. Their children, grandchildren...the grandson who just shipped out to Iraq, the young mother who was on the cusp of spiritual enlightenment, but the reality of her unenlightened family and husband was overpowering...

People would share their very personal stories with me and I listened with respect and a caring ear. I offered insight when I could and commiserated at times. Sometimes I cried with them.

I realized the gift each of these people gave me, entrusting me with their stories. I also realized the responsibility that came with those gifts. Sometimes, those people just needed someone to hear them. They needed someone to listen. When I would try to explain this to others, they were often confused. I said, "Sometimes I would see a patient, sing one song, and we'd start talking. I would leave the room 45 minutes to an hour later, and it was a good music therapy session. One song, and it was a good session."

Now my music therapy friends will appreciate this idea. We try to meet the client where they are and take them where they need to go. Sometimes we make music for them. Sometimes we make music with them. Sometimes we cry with them or laugh with them and sometimes we just listen.

If you pay attention to people, they share parts of their stories all the time. There are people that always seem mad at the world, or happier than could be expected of even the most optimistic person. There are varying degrees in between, but I think the point is made. We have to realize that the stories people are willing to share with most of the world is only part of their story. Most of us walk around behind a facade, a mask. It's human nature...a defense mechanism, at least in the Western world. Let's face it, most of us would feel too vulnerable to put out there our real stories all the time. It would be open season on our emotional selves! Who needs that?

I have learned in my experience as a music therapist and healer that my openness can encourage others to be open too. Often that openness helps facilitate the healing process. Yet I keep parts of my story to myself.

This became evident to me at the chiropractor's office the other day.

When one of the ladies that works in the office was doing electro stim therapy on my neck, I shared with her that my wife and step daughter were going to visit me the following weekend and how much I was looking forward to it because it had been a month since I'd seen them.

One of the other girls who works in the office walked by and was teasing me in a good natured way about something that had happened soon after I started seeing this chiro. One day when I came in for an adjustment, this girl asked me if I wanted to do the stim therapy before the adjustment. I became slightly panicked, and stuttered a bit before saying no, I wanted to do the therapy after the adjustment. As it turned out, I was having an especially hard time dealing with feelings of loneliness and missing my family. That one small change to the routine seemed very upsetting.

The other day, this sassy blonde girl was teasing me about not liking change. She was doing so in a good natured way. Anyone who knows my wife, knows I like sassy. And she was just saying those things in fun, but today I decided to share part of my story I hadn't shared with the office staff. In mock exasperation I said, "You know, I've only been here a month and I've never lived anywhere but Iowa and I just got married for the second time in June and now I'm 1200 miles away from my wife and kids, so if sometimes I come in here and I'm a little neurotic, there's a reason for it."

I tired to keep my tone light even though my words weren't. I didn't want her to feel bad, but I felt it was important for her to understand where I was coming from. I'm careful who I tell this part of my story to and how I tell it. I don't want to be one of those people. You know the ones...the people who unpack their drama for anyone within earshot. It's a form of energy vampirism really. "Feel sorry for me so I can get your attention and thus your energy."

I don't want to be one of those.

Sometimes though, I feel it's important to let select people know that I am dealing with some personal challenges and that sometimes I might need some extra gentleness or just some understanding.

This seems to be the time for me to deal with some of these things in a very direct way.

Two different times this week I found myself in conversations where people were asking about my emotional adjustment to my job, my living situation and such.

The first was someone who will be mentoring me in my job. I admitted that around the second week I was here, I was talking to my wife, in tears. I said, "I don't want to be do this anymore. I miss you, I miss my kids. I want to come home."

I nearly broke into tears recounting that conversation.

My mentor's face grew sincere, intense. She asked me, "Can you do this?"

I assured her that even though I had tough days, that I could. I told her, "Besides, I'm a martial artist...I don't give up."

The second was my supervisor asking how I was settling in. He asked informed questions about if I had found a nice place to live and if I was developing a social network. Good questions to ask someone in my situation.

For every story that a person shares with someone else, there are many they keep to themselves. What would it be like if everyone wore their heart on their sleeves? I will guarantee you this: no matter how open and honest someone is, even if they say they are telling you their whole story, there are stories they keep to themselves. Sometimes they realize they are doing it and sometimes it is pure defense mechanism and the stories are buried deep. That's okay though...that's how a lot of us keep our sanity.

My friends, the stories you have collected in your own lives need to be given a voice. Not just the stories you share, but also the stories you don't share. That voice can still be safe, still remain protected. For me, my journal sees most of the stories I don't give voice to anywhere else. Even so, there are some things I keep to myself. But maybe, just maybe we can coax a small bit of one of those untold stories out to share with someone...even if it's only on paper.

You might be surprised though...sometimes the things that you think will shock and horrify people actually encourage them to be a little more open.

"Hey, I have to tell you, I'm kind of a freak."

"What a relief! So am I!"

Who knows?

But I've got a strong intuition that if, as a global culture, we could all share a little more of our inner selves, there would be a lot less conflict in the world. Maybe we could all relate to each other a little better.

More relating to each other and more understanding; yeah, I think that would be good.