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The Power of a Story

In a departure from my usual blog style, today I would like to tell you a bit of a story:

My mother is Mauritian and moved to England with her family when she was 11. She still goes back quite often and I have been lucky enough to take all of my children at various times. We have lots of extended family there.

Last month, my mum’s cousins came to visit. Three sisters, one of whom had never been to the UK before. They came over to the island with my mother to visit for the day in the middle of their stay. Two of them had stayed with us recently so we’d already done the touristy stuff, and the weather was pretty unforgiving to their equatorial climate sensibilities, so we stayed home. Whilst I cooked us some wholesome, warming, vegetarian food, we all pottered to get settled.

And then I asked for a favour: due to a particularly persistent weevil infestation, I needed to decant my rice, pasta and noodles into glass jars.

Side note – the universe 100% provided the jars. One night I noticed the weevils (again) and realised I needed a permanent solution. But the normal pasta type jars don’t fit nicely in that cupboard, not to mention the cost. I decided in my head that I would keep my eye out for people giving some away – yes I am one of those people who visits my local freecycle page every day! An hour later, I got a notification on my phone that there was a new free item – a chippie was closing down and offering 6 pickled onion jars. I couldn’t believe my luck – well, I could because you know, the universe – and I arranged to collect the following day.

Anyway, back to the story, my mum and cousins were DELIGHTED to help. Seriously. So we drank tea and chatted and pulled weevils out of the dry goods to put them into their new jars. The food, not the weevils obvs.

At one point, I reminisced about doing this kind of thing with my mum and maternal grandmother, and they talked about doing it with their grandmothers too. This cultural experience that has travelled over 6,000 miles and countless generations. And it’s something we don’t even do anymore (because the supermarket rice is more refined than it used to be!).

But that’s what we found ourselves doing, for a couple of hours while the dahl simmered. Five Mauritian women, sitting in the kitchen, sharing a domestic task and telling stories. It was GLORIOUS.

And they felt it too, that connection to the activities of our ancestors. The almost visceral peace that descended over us as we worked in harmony and love.

So why am I telling you this objectively irrelevant story?! Because stories are important.

According to this blog post by Christine Hennebury:

“Storytelling is a fundamental part of being human. Stories let us share information in a way that creates an emotional connection. They help us to understand that information and each other, and it makes the information memorable. Because stories create an emotional connection, we can gain a deeper understanding of other people's experiences. That not only helps us to understand their lives but allows us to take the lessons they have learned and apply it to our own.”

As part of the Side by Side Doula Preparation Course, I ask for people to tell me their birth stories, or the story of a significant life event and throughout the course we share stories. I also talk to clients about the story of how they met their partner, or what happened in their previous birth(s). New doulas tell their mentors the stories of their client’s birth or parenting.

Tyson Brown, of the National Geographic Society writes “Storytelling is universal and is as ancient as humankind. Before there was writing, there was storytelling. It occurs in every culture and from every age. It exists (and existed) to entertain, to inform, and to promulgate cultural traditions and values.” in this arcticle. He also lists some of the many cultural traditions around passing stories down through the generations and how powerful this can be.

It’s been a long time since I picked up an actual paper book, I much prefer audio books these days as my hands are usually busy doing something else. But stories are not just limited to books. They exist in the excited anecdote from your child about what happened today, your partner recounting an experience they had or even the stories we tell ourselves about what has come before or a vision of things to come. You can tell your stories through written media, on a podcast or vlog or even in a sharing circle.

What’s your story? And who are you telling it to?

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