The power of stories

When our children were little we always read stories in the evening just before they went to bed. It was a delightful routine that we shared and I learned to love. We started when we only had one child and he was tiny. Often we read separately to each of our children, sometimes we read together as a family. That tradition has been passed down to our grandchildren. One of my favorite things about visiting our grandchildren is reading to them. We read during the day and we read at bedtime. They have learned that they can bring a book to us and we are glad to read out loud.

As our children grew up and moved out of our house, we went back to the practice of reading in the evening, but we read to ourselves, with occasional conversations about the different books we are reading. I sometimes turn to fiction in the evening, when I am a bit tired and I don’t want to wrestle with complex thought. I always have several books going at the same time.

At the moment, our household has all adults. Our daughter is coming soon, with her infant son, but the suddenness of our health crisis brought sisters and our son quickly and now that she is home from the hospital, we have my sister and one of hers to provide support. Before she left, however, Susan’s other sister read a few chapters of a novel out loud to Susan. We all got hooked on the story and our new routine is to read a chapter of the book as we prepare for bedtime. We have had to make a few new routines around medicines and allow a bit of extra time for preparations as Susan recovers and regains her strength. The story is engaging and I’m sure has a broad appeal, but we are all enjoying it.

I have been reminded once again, of how much joy I get out of reading out loud. I should know this because it has always been part of my job. I read liturgy and scripture in worship every week. I read scripture to individuals and families when I make pastoral calls. One of the functions of scripture is to remind us that our own stories are part of a much bigger story. Our people have experienced many different emotions and experiences over the generations and they have chosen to record our stories in a book that is sacred to us. Reading the book reminds us of our connections to others throughout all time. It reminds us of our connection to God.

The story we are reading these evenings isn’t scripture. It is a well-crafted novel, worthy of our time and appreciation because of the skill of the author and the art of storytelling which is on display. But reading someone else’s story is a gift after a couple of weeks of being so intensely wrapped up in our own. The novel lets our imaginations travel to a different time and a different place and engage different characters. the frustrations of recovery and the challenges of the days slip into the background as we become engaged in the adventures of the story.

I am struck once again with the power of story. There are, of course, all kinds of stories. Many are never written down. Reading last night I was reminded of another story we know.

Our friend and mentor, Ross Snyder suffered a serious stroke when he was in his eighties. For a long time he was hospitalized with no ability to do his normal activities. He was, for the most part, bed-ridden, not able to walk or even sit up on his own. He had been a professor and scholar and was a voracious reader. Each day as his wife faithfully visited him, she would sit in his hospital room and read the newspaper to him. She read the local newspaper, parts of the New York Times and the news section of the Wall Street Journal. From time to time she would add a bit of commentary, but for the most part she just read the daily articles and commentary.

As he slowly recovered he finally was able to come home. The reading continued. He regained the ability to read himself, but sometimes tired. She kept reading to him. His recovery was remarkable. We were able to visit them in their home when our son was a two-year-old. They had prepared a warm reception that included good conversation and lots of remembrances. Among the things they had prepared in advance of our visit was the gift of a book for our son. The book was a collection of stories and poems of Winnie-the-Pooh and Christopher Robin. We read those stories over and over until the book was nearly worn out. We left with two important stories: the oral report of reading newspapers and their remarkable power to promote healing and return to normal life and the book of read aloud stories for our son.

Stories connect us with others in powerful ways. I think of our friends every time I read stories of Christopher Robin and Winnie-The-Pooh. I rememberer the story of reading newspapers each time a member of my family is ill or recovering. When my mother was near the end of her life, she was hospitalized and one of the things I did was to read stories to her as she lay in here bed. I don’t know how much she understood, but I know she recognized my voice and my presence.

I think we may have discovered a new routine for our lives that will continue beyond this time of recovery. It won’t be long at all before Susan will be eager to read her own books and return to the normal events of our lives. But I think we may just continue to read a chapter or so from a book as part of our evening routine.

We’ve forged more than 46 years of shared stories out of this life. It seems right to add a few more.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!