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Are Stories An Antidote?

A few weeks ago, I got an email from someone I'll call Joanne. This was not unusual. Joanne had heard me perform in her town a decade ago, had bought some of my tapes, and has written me once or twice a year since then. Usually her notes describe the effect on her of a particular story. Sometimes she recommends someone else's story that she has read or heard and that she thinks would buoy my spirits, just like it buoyed hers.

Once, she wrote to order a half-dozen copies of one of her favorites CDs, so she could lend them to friends and still have her own copies. That way, she said, if the CDs weren't returned, she'd just be glad they had found a good home. She viewed lending out story tapes as a way to expose her friends to the power of story.

This time, though, Joanne's email was a little different. She told me how the difficult national and world news of the last year or two had taken some of the spring out of her step. Without being aware of it, she had found herself feeling a little hopeless and powerless. Uncharacteristically, she had been turning to sitcoms and other somewhat escapist activities, hoping they would elevate her mood. They worked while they were happening, she said, but actually left her feeling more hollow once they were over.

The Bad Things Were Still Happening. But...

Then, two weeks before she wrote me, she had been compulsively organizing her office - something she had been doing a lot of - just to "feel like I could get something done," she said. On a shelf, she had come across one of my older recordings, "The Forgotten Story: Tales of Wise Jewish Men." Back when she first bought the tape, she had listened to it several times, she but hadn't given it a thought for years. Impulsively, she put it on to play while she cleaned. She enjoyed listening to it, but didn't think much about it...

...Until the next day. On her way home from work, she remembered a scene from another recording, "The Soul of Hope," that seemed very important to hear. When she got home, she put on the beginning of that story, intending to skip around in the CD looking for the part she had thought of - and ended up listening straight through the entire two-act mystical adventure. A few days later, she listened to another tape, then another.

She couldn't be certain that there was any connection, she wrote me, but said, "I woke up this morning and realized that I was more myself again. The bad things were still happening in the world. The folks who believed that their enemies were evil still wanted to kill them, and the terrible knots of conflict were just as tragic. But I had regained my sense of spiritual balance and felt more able to take action to try to make things better. I had been, I believe, turned around by spending some pleasant hours with my old friends - the people in your stories."

Who Else Needs a Little Balance These Days?

Joanne's email put me to thinking. I, too, have felt off-balance in recent times. There are so many simplistic and disturbing messages blaring around me. The ones that clamor of disaster - as well as those that assure "we will be victorious" - all ring a little empty to me. After reading Joanne's email, I know why: It seems we are so afraid, we appear eager to trade away some of our connection to other humans.

However necessary it may be to distance ourselves from those who do evil acts, it hurts us to give up on anyone completely. To retain our full humanity in the face of these losses of love, we also need to experience some other kinds of victories - the great victories that the Talmud (the Jewish compendium of biblical interpretations) invokes as "turning an enemy into a friend." The stories on my tapes had helped Joanne right that balance.

More Than the Sum of Their Plots?

More than that, Joanne had helped me realize that a group of tapes can have more impact than any one story or even any one tape. It's one thing to hear a single story of a hero who is not just brave, but also kind, thoughtful, and able to assist others at difficult moments in their lives. But to hear a variety of such stories has a bigger effect. It helps us navigate the narrow bridge of the world without losing touch with the values that anchor the span we walk on.

To test this idea out, I created two bundles of recordings. One of them groups together all six of the all-Jewish recordings I've made, from my recording for families of participation stories and songs for Hanukkah to my about-to-be-released show for adults, "Can You Hear the Silence". The other bundle collects all eight of my tapes for adults, including all-Jewish recordings like "The Soul of Hope," tapes that mix Jewish and non-Jewish material like "Folk tales of Strong Women," and tapes completely from other sources, such as my personal story of values and identity, "Hopping Freights: A Wild 60's Adventure."

And, to make them available easily, I've created a new on-line store on the Hasidic Stories Home Page, complete with attractive discounts on either package. It's not too late to pre-order "Can You Hear the Silence," by the way. In fact, you can get it free with either bundle!

Your Band of Story Friends?

In this time of world turmoil, these stories demonstrate approaches to resolving conflict that don't dehumanize one's opponents. These stories don't preach, but they are deeply rooted in values. They allow us to savor the experience of men and women who struggle with thorny problems and yet prevail with their spiritual integrity intact.

In these times, we're often surrounded by a treacherous mix of aggression and cynicism. What's the cumulative effect of all the thousands of messages we receive from television, newspapers, ads - even billboards and bad jokes? Is there an antidote?

Listening to these collections is like having a band of tireless companions who speak a deeper truth, and who speak it in the timeless language of story. That's a good antidote to have, close at hand.

You can read the details or order the collections via the new Hasidic Stories Home Page On-line Store.

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This page was last updated on Monday, March 10, 2003
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