Wednesday, October 10, 2007


I’m never been much of a collector. Aside from a pretty impressive pencil collection in the 4th grade, I can’t recall collecting much of anything until one day I realized I was a collector of stories. My conscious awareness of this tendency occurred shortly after I decided to become a psychologist and; although, many people would think an interest in stories is directly connected to such a professional identity, I would have to say it doesn’t have to be and for some reason I have always had an intense desire to keep it separate. Of course this is not without saying that it has been helpful for the psychologist in me to be interested in stories, but I consider this overlap to be serendipity rather than intricately interrelated. I love stories and I think I would love stories even if I was an engineer.

I realized this important differential the day my dear friends gave me a CD entitled, the retells.

The Retells is a CD filled with short 3-5 minute stories that I had asked friends to repeat over and over again over the years. Recorded in the story teller’s voice, every story began with: ‘Gwen would always tell me to tell her the one about’….and then they would re-tell the story I so frequently asked them to tell over the years. I cried so hard driving down I-70 in my 10 foot U-Haul moving from Colorado to NYC that I had to pull over in order to prevent an accident. The tears were tied both to the fits of laughter I endured based on the substance of the silly stories as well as to feeling touched by the love and knowledge that I was truly known by those that I adore most.

The stories were tales of accomplishment, embarrassment, pride, shame and humor. No matter what the story is about, I love the way in which a meaningful personal story tends to have dramatic nuances and a personalized cadance. For example, my dear sweet friend Yophy, an exceptionally hilarious story teller, always managed to bring in a number of ridiculous analogies or bizaree descriptions of the circumstances she would find herself in; and, she always artistically placed one sarcastic one liner in the perfect space. She tells the story in the exact same manner each and every time, with one exception. With time and knowledge about what I love about her stories, she changes her story telling style in only one slight manner. Just as she approaches the part of her story that I grow to love best, she dramatically pauses, allowing the silence to fill with my apprehension and excitement.

My time in Liberia has taught me something new about what one is to do with a gifted story. I have realized that although part of me was destined to come here to listen to stories so that I could bring them back to share with the world; part of me has also been beckoned here to do something entirely different. I have realized that some stories are given to another so they could be put to rest. So now, out of respect, I have learned that I will be leaving some stories behind. Having been a collector of stories of sorts, a relentless searcher for a good tale, I find myself struggling with this new category of response to a shared tale, but I respect the need for peace and will honor it profoundly.

Looking forward to tomorrow and the days to come I have promised myself and my beloved story tellers that I will show up and listen with all the gusto that I show up for the ones I love to hear over and over again. For the ones that need to be left behind I have decided that I will carry them with me to the beautiful Liberian coast, far from the interior, and drop them like stones, one by one into the ocean.

For those of who are wondering ‘why now’ about this topic I have to say that story has been on my mind both consciously as well as unconsciously because I have the honor of hosting a consultant and recipient of the University of Minnesota Human Rights Clinic Fellowship, Andre Heuer. Andre is a gifted story teller and avid collector. His thoughts on his experience here in Liberia and more about his project can be read at:

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