The stories we tell

We all have stories to tell. While some of the tales we spin are about other folks, perhaps the most intimate sagas we know concern ourselves. Many times they are also the most poignant.

In my professional role as a healer, I maintain that, although we are all broken in some way, we do have the capacity to experience substantial healing — both by telling our story and by listening to the stories of others.

In this instance I use the word healing in the Old English sense of the word: becoming whole in body, mind and spirit.

In the words of professional storyteller Carmen Agra Deedy: “Some of our stories are told from the stage. Some are told in a small group, perhaps over a glass of wine in the evening. Some are told to one intimate friend, just once. And some we can only whisper to the Stygian darkness in the middle of the night.”

At the recent caregivers’ seminar at the Mason Hill retreat center in Cheshire, Massachusetts, those that made formal presentations as well as those in attendance all had a story to tell.

When I spoke to the group of caregivers, standing on crutches, it all came together: brokenness, healing; broken bones and casts; an abstract painting of a piece of cloth intricately folded and the line from Naomi Nye’s poem Kindness about following the thread of sorrow until you can see the size of the cloth; hope for healing through service to others.

I like to think that everyone came away enriched in some way. I know I did.

3 comments on “The stories we tell

  1. James Borton says:


    I have read your articles and stories with much interest. I know that you have been an ardent evangelist for the face of humanity for decades. Years ago, as a young grad student, I was fortunate to spend several hours with Dr. Robert Coles. Now there is a doctor who understands the need for a moral imagination.

    I am a writer and a blogger at

    James Joyce once said that all novelists have only one story, which they tell again and again. After my eventful triple bypass in June 2009, I recognized this truth and more. Medicine and storytelling go hand in hand. As a patient in ICU for over three weeks, I understand and affirm the interdependence of literature and medicine.

    Over the past year I have certainly come to understand how illness narratives require different storylines, novel metaphors and disclosed truths.

    I am now researching/writing about the proliferation of what I deem, “literary medical weblogs” and wish to engage you in the conversation. I recently presented at the Examined Life Program at UIOWA/Carver College of Medicine. And like you, find Howard Spiro to be an exceptional editor at YJHM.

    Will you kindly respond to me at and comment on this subject of ‘literary medical weblogs. What does that mean to you and is social media contributing to a changing conversations between doctors and patients.

    James Borton
    Where Narrative Matters

  2. […] comment on my blog posting The stories we tell came in just as I was re-reading the first chapter of James Joyce’s Ulysses on the front porch.  […]

    • Dear Brian
      I enjoy your blog and read this one with interest. I have a particular concern with the role of empathy and compassion in healing this world. This includes a consideration of the history and the future of healthcare, in the USA and the UK, and in particular in the social significance of healing the person as a precursor to healing the deep wounds and trauma of the world. Social Healing is now gaining recognition thanks for example to James O’Dea of Shift and the Institute of Noetic Sciences. I researched this in some depth especially in the context of the Wounded Healer and wrote a long essay, now incorporated as two chapters in my book Healing This Wounded Earth: with Compassion, Spirit and the Power of Hope. Sadly, although there are some pockets of holistic excellence, it would seem that most medical schools still pay “lip service” to the need for healing over and above curing, and technology often seems to take the upper hand.
      I like Carl Jung’s take on this, in his Memories, Dreams and Reflections:
      “The patient’s treatment begins with the doctor…in any ongoing analysis the whole personality of both patient and doctor is called into play. There are many cases that the doctor cannot cure without committing himself. When important matters are at stake, it makes all the difference whether the doctor sees himself as a part of the drama, or cloaks himself in his authority. In the great crises of life, in the supreme moments when to be or not to be is the question, little tricks of suggestion do not help. Then the whole being of the doctor is challenged…the Doctor is effective only when he himself is affected…‘the wounded physician heals.’ But when the doctor wears his personality like a coat of armour, he has no effect.”
      My first posted comment seemed to vanish into the ether so this is another attempt. I hope this does not prove to be a duplicate.

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