F is for Family

There are so many ways to interpret the title of this post.

I could talk about the importance of family stories and how these stories deepen our appreciation and understanding of our heritage. I could bemoan the loss of family time and communication as today's families speed along on widely different paths and seldom spend real time together.

I could talk about telling stories to family audiences, those performances when the audience ranges in age from newborn to ninety, when babies cry and toddlers wiggle and everyone has a great time listening. I could delve into the bag of stories that work for these audiences and why those tales work and how to modify a story so it too can be put into the family story bag.

I could talk about the family of storytellers and the ways we connect and support each other's work. I could extol the valuable assistance we offer each other through our listservs, Facebook pages, guilds and associations.

But I want to talk about the world family and how storytelling connects us all through universal themes, reminding us that we all share the same hopes, dreams, grief and joy. I see storytelling as an essential tool in the search for peace and understanding.

One of the stories I am telling this summer is based on Aesop's fable called The Bundle of Sticks, and it is a good example of how stories can connect us:

A father has five sons. Those boys do nothing but argue and fight all day, every day. The father is getting old and the continuous fighting is making him feel even older. He feels beaten down by harsh words and meanness. And he worries.

"I want to leave my farm to my sons to work together when I am gone," he thought. "But their arguing and fighting will surely cause them to lose their crops because they will never agree on when to harvest. The stock will be lost because they will argue over who should fix the fence. The buildings will fall into ruin because they will fight over which one should climb up to repair the roofs. Ah me, what am I to do?"

Finally one day the old father had an idea. He called his five sons to him and handed each of them a stick.

"Now," he said to the oldest son, "break your stick."

The son did so easily. The father moved to the second son, the third and so on. Each son easily broke the stick the father had given him.

"What's the point of this, Father? You're wasting our time with your foolish game!" the oldest son snarled.

"Maybe so, Son, maybe so. But before you leave, please take this bundle of five sticks and break it for me."

The oldest son grabbed the bundle and tried to break it. Sweat popped out on his forehead as he strained to break the bundle.

"Let me try!" said the second son. But he too was unsuccessful. All five sons tried to break the bundle but none of them could do it though they tried until their muscles were sore and their hands were blistered.

"My sons," said the old father, "you are like these sticks. Individually, you all will break but together you are strong. Work together and you and your families will prosper; continue fighting the way you have been, and you will surely be broken, and lose everything you own."
What parent does not worry about their children's future and feel exasperated when their children fight? What children have never argued with their siblings? Touching on such universal experience brings us together, and we can all feel the father's stress and love in this tale. At the same time, we can see how standing together can unite us in the face of adversity and make us stronger and better able to face the future.

Whenever a storyteller begins a tale, the audience before them slowly merges into a family of listeners. Sharing a story brings people closer together, shared experience and emotion creating a bridge that crosses over the divides of gender, age, race, economic levels, religious beliefs and politics. I cannot think of anything other than art that can have this impact on a diverse group, and of all the arts storytelling is the most personal, the most direct, and probably the simplest. I tell a story, using only my words, gestures and body language, and together the audience sees a world spread before them--a world with characters, scenery, history, adventure, and wisdom.