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The Healing Power of Story

I am nocturnally challenged. Many years ago, upon sharing this information with someone I met, he looked me in the eye and said ‘Get your beloved to read to you.’ I wasn’t sure what my beloved would think of that, but I asked him, and he did. He read Mark Twain to me in the dwindling evenings and I for a time, was no longer a tired woman stretched out on bed listening to her husband reading to her; I was a young boy skipping school to have adventures along the riverbanks of the Mississippi.

We all know how reading a story to children before they go to bed can help to calm and soothe them; not only that, it also is a deeply bonding experience. That’s probably why I still read to my children each night, despite the fact that they are well beyond the conventional age to be read to. But how about adults reading to adults? I not long ago read about Rob Paul’s tech project, Read with Audrey, a self-funded web app that matches readers to listeners. Paul’s aim was clear: ‘to spark interesting conversations and build meaningful relationships.’ I’m sure there are others like it, but it’s clear that we have a primal need for story. Put simply, stories can transform, connect and heal us. They send a clear message: You are not alone.

Fast forward many years from my beloved reading to me, and I am still nocturnally challenged. A dear friend (you will remain unnamed, but you know who you are) wanted to help me somehow, but she was unsure how to. So earlier this year she had the idea to send me the first chapter of a book on WhatsApp. What did you think of it? She asked me. I wasn’t entirely sure what I thought of it, truth be told. The protagonist was so vile and utterly dislikable: a surly old man whom I thought it would be nigh on impossible to ever warm to.

But this weekend, after many hours of her recording her voice, and me listening to her reading, I sat in a warm greenhouse as a fierce wind blew outside and listened to her read the final chapter. And I cried. Because this sullen old man had become my friend and I had been on such a journey with him. I came to understood why he was sullen and that there was so much more to him than his irascibility. And through my friend’s dedication, I crept beneath the skin of an old Swedish man, utterly removed from my life and yet, so intimately connected with it. Such is the power of story: its power to move and to take us to places far outside ourselves, but also tap into deeper truths that lie within.

So I’m writing this blog to say this: If you have a friend who is suffering, and you don’t know how to help them, consider reading to them. In person or using some form of technology. It could just change their life.

And I’m also writing this blog to say to my friend: Thank you. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.

(In case you are curious about getting to know the sullen old man better, the book is called A Man Called Ove and is written by Fredrik Backman and stunningly translated from its original Swedish).

2 replies
  1. sustainablemum
    sustainablemum says:

    What a beautiful idea. I cannot imagine what it must be like to not be able to sleep, that must be so hard. I wouldn’t be surprised if it is related to food knowing some of your medical history.

    Reply
    • Rebecca Stonehill
      Rebecca Stonehill says:

      Hi there, thanks so much for reading and for your comment. Yes, the food angle seems a likely one given my (our!) illness. But I’ve played and experimented with that so much over the years, so I’m not so sure anymore.

      Reply

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