A few months ago, the students wrote a personal narrative, a story from their lives that has had an impact on who they are and who they are becoming. It’s amazing how sometimes these stories are so dry on the page, seemingly lacking the power and passion that must have inspired them in the first place.
This morning we began the work of telling these stories, aloud, by heart, to the class. One student, whose previous story on paper was flat, chronologically driven, and uninspired, by sharing his story aloud created a poignant drama, revealing his vulnerabilities, honesty, and integrity. His voice was crackly, not unsure, but open, courageous even. The students were rapt in his revealing of the deep, complicated, and very serious issues with which he has been dealing throughout this year. No one had an inkling.
The next student got up and talked about a series of deaths over a three month period that he had experienced. Shocking to a 14 year old. On paper, his story was strong but skirted the edge of sentimentality. Aloud, his story became plaintive, affecting, so very moving. His voice, too, broke several times in the telling. His sincerity and humbleness were almost overpowering. At the end of his story, three students got up to grab kleenexes.
And while these stories were shared, for these few moments, my cold disappeared. I’m sure my nose stopped running. I was transported, carried deeply into the lives of my students. I was humbled by the gift of their candidness, genuineness, and generosity of spirit.
I shared with a colleague that maybe I ought to have my students tell their stories first and then write them down, that maybe that would help them to capture the same passion on paper. She suggested that actually, the writing itself brought them to this point. That then when they told their story they were able to enter it because of the process of writing that had come before, that they never would have reached this without the writing first.
Maybe the lesson in all of this is that there is no way to capture passion, on paper or orally, other than the commitment to enter one’s own story, fully open, trusting that the story itself will lead you where you need to go.