This post isn’t going to be as light-hearted as usual. It’s still going to be hopeful, however. I hope that in all my posts, hope for the future shines through. Happiness and hope are inextricably linked. And so are stories. I’ve been to a couple of very interesting writers’ meetings recently, where stories real and imagined have been shared. Sometimes the truths in people’s pasts are stranger and more fascinating than the fiction we share with each other.
The more I learn about people, the more I realise that there are stories all around us, even when we’re not conscious of them. Sometimes the pursuit of a make believe story can distract me from the real stories going on around me. Sometimes I’m reminded with a bump. I’ve recently discovered that one of my writing comrades lost a leg in a motorbike crash (he illustrated this by taking it off and placing it on the restaurant table) and ended up counselling his psychoanalyst in subsequent therapy; that another’s father was one of Winston Churchill’s bodyguards during the war; and another’s grandfather was part of the platoon sent to clean up Bergen-Belsen when the war was over.
I ended up sharing that my grandfather on my dad’s side, who was in the merchant navy, had seven ships sunk under him. How I wish wish wish he was still here, so I could record his story. My grandparents on my mum’s side emigrated from China when the communists took over. They had 8 children – their eldest was left behind and adopted in China (that’s another story). My mother was the seventh child, born after they’d settled in Malaysia, once they’d hiked through the jungle from Thailand, the eldest son nearly dying from a snake bite en route. The family had stowed away in the hold of a ship in order to escape China and make it to a safe place. It’s a happy story.
One friend from the group is developing writing courses to help people cope with trauma. She mentioned how people have ‘cover stories’ – they can tell you what happened to them, but they’ve come up with almost a soundbite for it so that the telling of it doesn’t bring back the hurt and harm. To help work through it, you have to slow it down – bring out the details and face them. I’ve done the same when explaining sad things that have happened – skimming over talking about a bereavement so as not to feel it again. My granddad’s told the soundbite of the ‘seven ships’ – but I only know the cover story – not the details. When my friend’s granddaughter asked what it was like, cleaning up Birkenau, all her grandfather said (/could say?) was, ‘horrible.’
And then, today, I saw this Ted talk on everyday sexism from a girl I went to university with, Laura Bates. She’s talking about and encouraging people to share the stories that no one wants to tell and no one wants to hear.
And that links to one of the aims of a charitable organisation I’ve become involved in – Haven Trust (website under development). It has been founded by a lady who escaped a situation of domestic abuse with her children. She was forced to leave with nothing. She’s acquired the management rights to a hotel in Queenstown NZ and is planning to open a centre for victims of domestic violence. She then aims to open 5 more across New Zealand. She started the trust to provide a stepping stone for other families in her position, making it possible to leave when it seems impossible, providing shelter and employment opportunities to help people start over. What she and her children went though is horrific. But horribly commonplace. A purpose of the trust is to help people coming through record and share their stories with the world. Stories that might never else come to light, because of the prison of silence that allows this kind of abuse to go unnoticed and unpunished.