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Thursday, October 28, 2010

Stories for When Disaster Strikes

Here are three stories matching the disaster theme, but your specific Coping with Chaos theme might need more if I was designing an actual program for you.  I might consult resource books like Margaret Read MacDonald's Storytellers Sourcebooks and the various volumes of Index to Fairy Tales that offer specific subject indexing.  Another great source is Story-lovers S.O.S. put together from the suggestions of fellow storytellers on the international storytelling email list, Storytell.  Two sections there most likely to be useful are "Emotions" and "The Human Condition", but webmaster, Jackie Baldwin, also has a search feature for the site.

The two tales my fellow storytellers agree fit When Disaster Strikes will follow, but by now you may wonder what was my own personal disaster. 

A $4 Part
It all began a year and a half ago when my husband updated our toilet with a $4 part.  We were away from home for two days and returned to a flooded house!  The part had broken, sending six inches of water into a basement loaded with storage, especially books and clothes, and ruining the flooring and drywall in our bedroom, two bathrooms, the hall, and our linen closet. 

The typical question asked at this point has to do with our insurance coverage.  The answers aren't simple.  Months earlier we had seen our agent to assess any possible gaps in our coverage. We were told we had "102% coverage."  Sounds good, doesn't it?  Unfortunately he didn't catch a change to our policy leaving us with only the depreciated value of our personal property.  So most items were worth 20 cents on the dollar.  Yes, our "structure", the things that put together our house like drywall and carpeting were covered, but our belongings were not.  It did us little good to hear things like "I don't even sell policies like that.  I send anybody wanting only that kind of coverage to somebody else." or "Ultimately it's the policy holder's responsibility."  So much for his assessment.

I could say a lot more about what happened, but will summarize and leave room for the other two stories.  ServPro did a great job of draining the basement (we started, but it was more than we could do) and moving our belongings, both our warehouse of a basement and our bathrooms and bedroom.  The bedroom went into our living room, so it was right there facing you whenever the front door opened!  For two weeks we lived with the roar of pumps and dryers.  For about a month and a half we lived in the midst of construction.

Our re-builders, Above Board, lived by their name, both in their workmanship and our confidence in giving them access to the house even when we were away.  By the time they were almost finished, I felt like a homeowner on This Old House getting the summary of work.  They've gone now and we're trying to put our belonging back where they belong.  Getting dressed is still an adventure as things were boxed and moved often without our decisions.  Things needed to move and move quickly!  At times clothing was sealed up to protect it, some went in a spare room, some on a table or rack in our garage, or around the living room/bedroom.  Finding that pair of shoes, blouse, or earrings took creativity! 

Hours doing laundry at the laundromat, where there were extra large washers and dryers, are starting to fade into memory.  It will take a long time for the pain of listing ruined loved books and clothes to fade.  People were mainly supportive, but the comment about turning off the water before leaving home wasn't.  The damage might have been a bit less, but still a lot if we'd been gone just for a day of storytelling.  In summary, I definitely would NOT advise this as a way to get your house remodeled!

So much for my own personal cautionary tale.

It Could Be Worse
When this happened a folktale, often attributed to Eastern European Jewish tradition, popped into my mind immediately.  No matter how bad your disaster, let this story's title help remind you that somehow "It Could Be Worse."

The briefest way I can tell this:
A man finds the noise and confusion from his children, pets, and wife in a tiny house drive him crazy.  He goes to see the village wise man or rabbi.  "Get your ____" (I like to let my audience suggest the barnyard animals) "and bring it into the house."  The man is puzzled, but does as he is told.  Of course the animal is noisy, messy, and a major problem, so he goes back for better advice.  He's told "It could be worse" and again given the suggestion "Get your ____ and bring it into the house."  The man is puzzled, but does as he is told, adding this different animal to the previous one for even more noise, mess, and problems.  Back he goes, this time hoping for better advice.  Again he is told, "It could be worse.  Get your ____ and bring it into the house."   He is puzzled, but once again does as he is told since everybody agrees this is the wisest man in their area.  Of course, the animals, children, pets, and his wife altogether create a house filled with noise, fur, feathers, and . . . well, much worse!  At last he can stand it no more and returns to complain about this insanity!

The wise man smiles and says it is now time to put the barnyard animals back where they belong and clean up the house.  This happens and the house is now filled with the peaceful sounds and smells of his family and their pets and a happy man who knows...It Could Be Worse.

Solomon's Ring
One of the reasons I treasure the networking of storytellers on the email list, Storytell, and also the "social" network Professional StorytellerWikipedia there are various versions, but I'll retell it briefly as it has been most often told to me.

Long ago in the days of King Solomon, the king gathered his wisest advisers and requested a ring that would grant great power; a ring with words having the ability to make someone sad happy, but also someone happy sad.  At last he received such a ring and the powerful king regretted his request.  Engraved upon the ring were the words able to change his happiness to sadness, but also whenever he was sad, could help bring him happiness.  Those words were: This, too, shall pass.

Those three stories, of course, are just the start.  I love creating storytelling programs around a theme, it certainly could be something to fit a particular disaster, with stories added to fit your specific disaster.  That said, I would hope to be able to bring enjoyment and stories on happier occasions, too.

I hope you will also read the sections on suggestions for When Disaster Strikes.


You may also find the conclusions reached on the anniversary of our disaster at When Disaster Strikes One Year Later worth checking.