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Storytelling Between Generations

March 14, 2018

Oh no, the kids aren’t interested in my stories.”

Are you kidding?? They’re only interested in what’s on their cell phones!”

These are the kind of remarks I get at presentations for elders: in senior centers, assisted living communities… at a hospice recently in New Zealand.

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But -for thousands of years, elders were the primary educators of children and youth. These educators taught many things: practical life skills, the history of their people to give the young a perspective on current events, and the values and beliefs that formed the cornerstone of their society.

Question: Are these things still relevant and valuable today? Of course, they are!

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I am sure you have heard – as I have – children or grandchildren at a funeral, lamenting… ‘Why didn’t I ask questions? Why didn’t I listen? Now, s/he’s gone – and I can’t do either…’ As a storyteller, I am committed to demonstrating to elders how valuable their contributions are. Yes, they need a little help sometimes – to structure their stories, to make them relevant to young people in the 21st century. But, most of all, they need to have the faith that they have something valuable to contribute to younger generations. And they DO. I have seen kids – 10, 12, 14 year olds – sitting, dumbstruck, as an elder describes riding a horse to school, or searching for a child lost in a snowstorm. At the National Storytelling Festival in Tennessee, I watched hundreds of kids, bussed in for a special day, sit rapt, listening to the stories of a wonderful 84 year old storyteller – Kathryn Windham. “She is SO cool!” said one teen. And she was….

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However, elders, you don’t need to be Kathryn Windham to tell engaging stories to young people you care about. Yes, the world is changing. But stories of persistence and humor and courage and wit are always relevant – no matter when they took place. And when those stories come from someone you know, someone you love, the impact can be even stronger.

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At the hospice in New Zealand, things really began to pop when a great-grandmother finally spoke up. She described telling stories to her great-grandchildren – and their reaction: “Granny… you DIDN’T??!” There were smiles, laughs, nods – and suddenly everyone wanted to talk. Stories poured out of them; stories that their descendants needed to hear. My last words to them were, “Tell them. Tell those stories.” I hope they do.

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