As part of my preparation for the benefit we are planning for Healing Voices-Personal Story on September 1st in Santa Fe, I spent an afternoon with a group of women who have come through abuse and who are in the process of changing their lives. As I am a professional storyteller, the
focus of the session was a story.
What message do you want to send to other women who’ve been captured by a “Troll?”
“Love yourself enough to leave.”
“Don’t settle for less.”
On June 7th, I spent time with a group of women in a “resettlement” program in Hartford, Connecticut. I brought fresh strawberries from my friend’s spring garden, an old European “fairy tale,” and some questions. The women, all former prison inmates, are part of a support group that meets once a week in Hartford at the Community Partners in Action Resettlement Program.
The story I chose to tell them, one of the Grimm’s Tales, describes the trials of a Princess who falls through the crack in a glass mountain and is forced to be the house drudge of the long-bearded Old Rink Rank. She loses all sense of herself, even forgetting her own name. This young woman is eventually rescued, not by a prince, but by her own efforts. When she hits rock bottom, something shifts in her psyche and she finds her own way back up to the light.
The women in our group listened with great attention, nodding at times, often uttering a chorus of
“uh-huhs” at recognizable moments in this story of abuse and redemption.
After the telling, in response to my questions, as well as their own, they fleshed out their understanding…and mine as well…of this classic tale. We looked at how easy it is to fall thought the cracks, losing ourselves to the “trolls” ever waiting to use us for their own purposes. The story does not tell us how and why the Princess turns her situation around. But these women knew:
“All that hard work gave her strength.” “When you hit rock bottom, when you are fed up, that’s when you make the changes.”
We also discussed two possible endings. The Princess, having trapped the old man by his long beard, sets him free once she has returned to the world. In the Grimm version, her father, the King, has him killed. We looked at the justice of this. Then we looked at a more forgiving model, the possibility of not taking revenge. A different kind of justice.
Our discussion was lively, filled with recognition and gritty wisdom. While we never got in to our own personal stories, it was clear that all of us, group members, case workers, and I, recognized aspects of our own lives in this timeless tale. And working with it in this way helped us all clarify and enlarge our understanding of our lives.
Two of the women commented to me that they never understood that “those old stories actually meant something.” Ah! This storyteller quoted a favorite adage in the storytelling world:
The stories are not good because they are old; they are old because they are good.
I look forward to telling this story and others for the benefit in September. If you are in the Santa Fe area, please join us.