I had to work late for my day job tonight, and the last thing I ever expected to receive in return was an important lesson on storytelling.
My city is holding the first ever national event of reconciliation for the survivors of residential schools. I’m very proud and honored that my CEO has been asked to speak at this event, and we went today to get a sense of the environment and what other people had to say. (My CEO speaks tomorrow.)
There were many speakers. Some had messages of apology and hope for the future. Some had anger and recriminations that wandered more than slightly off topic. But the last man took my breath away. Unlike the others, who had started their speeches with greetings and salutations, he began
“I remember the day the planes came and took me away from my family. My parents have told me how silent the village was when all the children were gone, when you could no longer hear them playing. The only thing you could hear was the sound of the parents crying.”
The huge tent full of people quieted. It was hot and humid and uncomfortable, but for once, no one fidgeted on their chairs. This man embodied the power of story, and he was using it to hold all of us spellbound.
I’m not doing his story justice–I don’t think anyone else could hope to tell it the way he did. He spoke of how his parents walked for three days from their trap line, and then took an expensive taxi–using all of the money they had in the world–just to see their son again for a few short hours.
If there was a single person in that tent unmoved, that person must have been made of stone. Unfortunately, as with most of these events, this man was using his power on the converted. Those of us in the gathering–both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal–were there because we already get it. Because we already care. How I wish this man’s voice could be carried to those who don’t! How the impact would be magnified!
It was a simple, emotional lesson on the power of story. We can hide our message behind fancy words or lofty academia. We can try to dazzle with rapier wit or alluring alliteration. But when it comes down to it, nothing has the impact of a good tale well told. For years, I will remember this man’s story of being forcibly taken from his parents and confined in a residential school. I will remember it, and I will pass it on.
And that, my friends, was the point.
Well done, Matthew.