The Endagered Stories Act in Action

I’m in San Fransisco to take part in the Poetics of Aging Conference ( I thought this would be a good time to say a little about the Endangered Stories Act and to let folks know about a new direction/initiative I’ve taken in my “storied life.  Hope you’ll take the time to check out

I created The Endangered Stories Act after hearing again and again the all too familiar lament,“ Grandpa  used to tell such wonderful stories.  I wish I’d paid more attention or recorded them.  Now he’s gone and the stories are gone.”  Sound familiar?

My Dakota friend Sid Byrd regaling 3rd grade students with stories about his time at Indian boarding schools and impressng on them the importance of maintaining their native language. At 92 Sid is still traveling, lecturing and storytelling.

The stories of our families and friends are priceless and their loss,  just like the loss of habitat or the disappearance of an endangered species, erodes the wealth of our living heritage.

Some time ago, I asked people, family, friends and strangers, t to share a story about a special gift that they had either given or received.  One young woman, a waitress in a local coffee shop, offered this…

“My family was really going through a really hard time.  My father had been in a terrible accident and hadn’t worked for more than two years.  Christmas was getting near and I could tell that something was bothering my grandmother.  She told me that she was really sad that she didn’t have any money to buy me a gift.  But a few days later she really perked up.  She did have a gift for me after all.  She asked me  if I would like to spend three days over the holidays with her so that she could tell me her life story.  I did, and learned so much about her that I didn’t know, some things that really surprised me.  She said  that she was telling me things that she hadn’t thought of or spoken of in many years.  And she told me that she had picked me to tell these stories to, because I seemed to be the one among her grandchildren who had asked her questions and shown the most interest in knowing about her life.  It was the very best gift I have ever received.”

You can begin by asking a friend, a parent, a child, or even a stranger, to tell you something about themselves or their family that you have never heard before.  And if you are an elder, just like the waitress’s grandmother, please offer your stories as a gift.  A third grade class took on as an assignment to learn something you never knew about a parent or grandparent, and returned to class bursting with enthusiasm with their new discoveries.  A library in New Mexico sponsored an evening of family storytelling and created a beautiful Endangered Stories talking stick to commemorate the event.   The possibilities are endless.  What is guaranteed is that the activity of asking, listening and telling, deepens understanding, and strengthens relationships.

The Endangered Stories Act is an invitation to a story, the seed of an idea. In keeping with its challenge that people commit to becoming the ‘Caretaker’ of a Story, it is my intention to act as the caretaker for the ‘story’ of the Endangered Stories Act.  I encourage you to make and distribute copies of the ESA and to implement it  in your own way, at family schools, libraries, churches…  Behind all this is my conviction that as we are more and more known to each other through the stories we tell, we can create more possibilities for understanding and community in this world. I hope to hear from you and learn how you put the ESA in action!


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