Thursday, December 31, 2009

A gift of story

DURING A QUIET MOMENT this Christmas week, I pulled out from the shelf and read again the tiny book “The Gift of Story: A wise tale about what is enough” by Clarissa Pinkola Estes. It looked so small beside the big, thick “Women Who Run with the Wolves,” a groundbreaking book also by Estes. On the same shelf level was my first children’s book—“Toby Runs Away”—that my mother read to me when I was little. I don’t remember how it got there.

Estes’ “The Gift of Story” is all of 32 pages. Its big drop letters at the beginning of every section go with exquisite illustrations that look like wood cut designs. Many years ago I bought two copies of the book and gave the other copy to a friend whose friend was very ill.

I read the book again because I have just come up with a little story book myself. My and Jess Abrera’s book miraculously made it to the National Bookstores in Metro Manila the day before Christmas and it was selling. Some branches had to have their supply replenished. I thought, it was when the book was out there that I was pondering what the story might mean. Or if I did it right. That is, from Estes’ Jungian perspective.

Estes is a known American poet, psychoanalyst and post-trauma specialist who was raised in a now nearly vanished oral and ethnic tradition. She founded a human rights organization that has, as one of its missions, to broadcast strengthening stories via short-wave radio to trouble spots around the world.

In “The Gift of Story,” Estes tells a story within a story within a story, or several stories in one story, woven in a way that keeps you in awe and wonderment. Despite the bleak landscape of war and poverty Estes’ story glows because of the way it is told.

One of the children’s books I read before I sat down to write my story was “Sami in the Time of the Troubles” by Florence Parry Heide and Judith Heide Gilliland (watercolor by Ted Lewin) which is about a child caught up in the horrors of war. A difficult plot to tackle indeed. But they pulled it off.

I asked myself, how was I going to write a children’s story about the recent natural disasters that left many children terrified, homeless or dead? I wanted to write a healing story for kids after I visited a disaster area and learned from news reports and first-hand accounts about the trauma that the children suffered. Well, to make a long story short, the story wrote itself. And Jess, the multi-awarded cartoonist of the Inquirer, said yes to making it come to life in full color.

“Bituin and the Big Flood” /Si Bituin at ang Malaking Baha (Anvil Publishing, 24 pages, P78.50) is dedicated to the children who lost their lives during “Ondoy” and “Pepeng,” and to the children who survived. The story is in English and Pilipino.

Stories hold magic. And so important in sharing that magic is the way they are told. Stories are also a medium for healing especially for children who cannot verbalize in precise words the feelings they have inside. A story is told, children listen and get connected to the characters in the story.

Children have stories to tell, too. Through these they are able to surface and release their inner and hidden feelings.

The story hopes to help the children who experienced the recent natural disasters and tragedies that visited homes and communities. Told simply and through illustrations, the story is about family and community, about helping one another and doing something good during and after the difficult times.

I thank child psychotherapist Dr. Ma. Lourdes A. Carandang for her input to improve the story and the guide questions.

At the end of the story are suggested guide questions the storyteller could ask to encourage the children to tell their own stories or express what they remember and feel through words, drawings, play and other ways. We listen closely to what they say, help ease their fears and give them hope.

Here’s what Estes says about stories. “Like night dreams, stories often use symbolic language, therefore bypassing the ego and persona, and traveling straight to the spirit and soul who listen for the ancient and universal instructions imbedded there. Because of this process, stories can teach, correct errors, lighten the heart and the darkness, provide psychic shelter, assist transformation and heal wounds.

“(T)he tales people tell one another weave a strong fabric that can warm the coldest emotional or spiritual nights. So the stories that rise up out of the group become, over time, both extremely personal and quite eternal, for they take on a life of their own when told over and over again.

“Though none of us will live forever, the stories can. As long as one soul remains who can tell the story, and that by the recounting of the tale, the greatest forces of love, mercy, generosity and strength are continuously called into being in the world, I promise you…it will be enough.”

A dear friend who lived and worked in Indonesia for more than 20 years gave me a big colorful book, “Letters from Aceh” which contains the letters/stories, drawings and pictures of children from Aceh who survived the Dec. 2004 tsunami that killed some 250,000 people in Asia and beyond. It also has photographs of the devastation. The exchange of letters (in the kids’ handwriting) is between kids from Aceh and kids from around parts of the world. The recent killer typhoons Ondoy and Pepeng that hit the Philippines were nothing compared to the 2004 tragedy.

Karina Bolasco of Anvil publishing just texted to say that there is a 36 percent discount for bulk orders of “Bituin.” Contact or call 6375141, 6373621.

With God’s awesome mercy, 2010 will be gentler than the year just past.