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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 41 thing I knew I had to do was to write about what I felt when I was in that world, not what I feel now. That was the only way people could come along on this journey with me.” Storytelling is an ancient art for healing, along with silence, prayer, chanting, singing, and dancing. Story- telling is healing because it encourages the tellers to look at their narratives very closely, often from new perspec- tives that allow for some emotional distance. “While there is a part of us that is deeply involved in the emo- tion of the story, through telling a story we also have the capacity to witness what we have been through,” says psychologist Beth Hedva. “The way we view our stories reveals a lot about ourselves. If we are suffering, hold remorse, regret, self-righteousness, or self-pity, we can begin to see this through the telling of our stories and we can begin to release it.” Yet it is not just storytellers who are liberated from suf- fering. Readers, when they begin to see themselves reflected in the words, also benefit. “When we read a book like Ish- mael’s,” says Simms, “we experience a taste of something that is different but that we can relate to as well. Because of the extent of the suffering that Ishmael has experienced, it breaks down boundaries, such as cultural boundaries. Because such suffering and the truth of death cut across all lines, our inherent humanity is penetrated by a story like his. Sometimes when you have a story that is more ab- stract or more political, then readers can say to themselves that it has nothing to do with them.” WHEN BEAH FIRST MOVED to New York City in 1999, writing a memoir was the furthest thing from his mind. He didn’t think that people would want to hear his story. In fact, even when A Long Way Gone was published, Beah was surprised by readers’ reac- tions. “I thought only humanitarian workers would be interested,” he says. He was wrong. Across North America, auditoriums fill when he is scheduled to speak. His story has struck a chord in his readers, awakening in many of them the ability to listen and love unconditionally. “In some ways, our goodness is awakened along with Ishmael’s,” says Simms. “There is a recognition, which is hard to swallow, that any of us could be on any side of this story. We could be the nurse who saves Ishmael or the colonel who puts a gun in his hand. We could be the child recovering or the child on a killing spree. When we read his book, we taste that possibility inside each of us and we are awakened to the possibility that we can envision change and choices.” Stories such as Beah’s, adds Dr. Hedva, “help those who dare read them to go beyond the emo- tions that initially come up when they stand face to face with someone who is different. When people who are different stand side by side, they often con- tort their projections of the other in an attempt to make the other appear the same as them. It is only when we begin to accept the differences between us Beah and Laura Simms in New York. PHOTOCOURTESYOFLAURASIMMS SEPT 36-43.indd 41 SEPT 36-43.indd 41 6/25/07 4:53:55 PM 6/25/07 4:53:55 PM