Tell Me Your Story

Posted on September 28, 2022 by Lisa Thomas under Uncategorized
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About this time every year (unless there happens to be a pandemic raging), my daughter and I attend STORY.  Held in the beautiful (and maze-like) home of the Nashville Symphony, The Schermerhorn (which neither of us can pronounce), the gathering is two days of inspiration overload.  It has been attended by delegations from Amazon, Google, and Disney, just to name a few—and folks who are basically semi-normal human beings . . . like my child and me.

This year, the creator, organizer, and host of STORY, Harris III (enunciated as Harris the third) shared with us the origins of STORY—how an awkward moment in time and reluctant compliance with a spur of the moment request, led to a conference that has literally impacted thousands of lives.  Actually, more like tens of thousands . . . maybe even hundreds of thousands over the last seven years.

Harris began his career as a magician compliments of a magic kit given to him one Christmas by his grandparents—a magic kit that was disappointingly not a baseball glove.  That unwanted gift quickly opened the door to the truly unlimited possibilities that magic magically holds.  And although life was kind enough to grant him success in his chosen profession, it had also carried some hard lessons, costly lessons that put him back on the road performing in schools and small venues in order to support his family.  One such spot was a town in Michigan where he was scheduled to entertain the students of a local high school, mostly in hopes his trailer of a performance would convince them to drag their families to the full-blown show later in the day.  Normally that involved a bit of magic carried out with no personal commentary regarding the magician and his life thus far.  But on this day . . . on this day the principal of the school asked him to not only perform his illusions but to tell the kids how they were being tricked into making the unwise decisions for which youth is so often known.  That was not at all what Harris had in mind.

The show began, the students responded appropriately, and as his final trick, Harris freed himself from a straitjacket, holding it high above his head to the accompanying applause.  Thinking he had also escaped the need for any personal revelations, he scanned the crowd . . . only to have his eyes land on the principal, leaning against the wall with a huge grin and two thumbs up.  The realization smacked him in the pit of his stomach.  He was going to be required to say something very unmagical, and he had no idea what that something would be.

So, standing there on the stage, still holding the straitjacket aloft, Harris told the kids about the straitjackets he had faced, wrapping up his discourse with the observation that everyone has a straitjacket in their life, and it’s something from which they could escape.  There was a smattering of applause as the students filed out of the room . . . except for one.  One child who came toward him rather than walking away.  She had something she wanted to give him and when he held out his hands, she pulled a razor blade from her pocket and dropped it into them.  For so many reasons, she no longer felt she was worthy.  She had chosen to begin harming herself as a way to regain control of something in her world . . . and she had just handed Harris her weapon of choice.  When he asked why, she told him he was the first person to ever make her believe her life mattered.

Harris left that day with her words and actions weighing on his heart.  His story, which he reluctantly shared at the insistence of a stranger, was precisely the story she needed to hear.  And it changed her life.  The power of that story was undeniable . . . and if his story could change one life, how many other lives could be changed if everyone was willing to do the same?  The results were not immediate, but eventually that encounter led to the birth of STORY.

I asked Harris if I could share his experience with you because I too, know the impact of the right story, told at the right time, to the right person.  In my world it’s most evident in the presence of Death.  Those who are grieving need something to hang onto . . . hope that the pain will eventually subside, and they’ll be able to see something besides the darkness of loss.  And the only people who can truly give them that hope are those who have made the journey before them; they are the only ones who can speak from experience.  For those of you who have traveled that road, your stories hold great power.  They offer a glimpse of a brighter future . . . they grant permission to the suffering to give voice to their pain . . . to be heard in their grief and to find light in the long, dark tunnel ahead.

To those of you who have walked this path—even though your journey continues—I encourage you . . . I beg you . . . to share your story with others, to become a companion and guide for those who are being forced to follow in your footsteps by circumstances over which they have no control.  Your words are powerful.  Your story can lead to hope and adjustment and healing.

But only when it is shared.

 

About the author:  Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926.  She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there.  Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.

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