“The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative.”*
There is much written on stories, the power of stories and their ability to connect us and help us learn and grow. In fact, recent research has shown that children who know their family story are able to withstand more of life’s troubles than those that don’t. In a word, they are more ‘resilient’.
The research comes from two psychologists out of Emory University. They developed a tool called “Do You Know” that asked children to answer 20 questions about their families. They found that the more a child knew about their family the higher their self-esteem and their ability to withstand stress, to function normally. It turned out to be the “best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.”
Because it is about being a part of a bigger story, being a part of something larger than we are.
I think about this, about resilience and the family narrative and look back on some of the chapters of the story. In my story there is the chapter where “Grandma K” lost Grandpa, he was only 50 years old. My mom was thousands of miles across the ocean and received the news by telegram. My cousin Leslie Ann was there, remembers his stomachache, how they all thought it was about something he ate. But it wasn’t – it was a heart attack. Grandma K weathered her grief and loss with grace, moving on to welcome many more grandchildren, and then great-grandchildren into the family narrative.
There is the chapter where my oldest brother almost drowned in a canal in Pakistan, a family friend rescuing him and my mother doing CPR – something she had just read about in a Reader’s Digest, praying all the while that he would live.
There is the chapter where my mom stood on the roof of our home in Ratodero on Christmas Eve, deeply discouraged, lonely and alone. Friends from a town 45 minutes away on a dusty road drove to surprise us, singing Christmas Carols to announce their arrival. Another chapter where my oldest brother, but 28 years old, lost his first wife to cancer, leaving behind both him and a beautiful 4-year old – Melanie Joy.
There are too many chapters to count – one goes all the way back to John Howland of the Mayflower.
And then there are the chapters that my nuclear family have written, are writing. Those chapters include Pakistan, Egypt, Istanbul, Essex, holidays, plane rides, arriving in the United States with all our earthly possessions in 26 suitcases and an Egyptian Siamese cat, pictures of Yassar Arafat and Yitzhak Rabin in a heart-shaped frame on our mantle, tea-time on winter nights, curry and kusherie, lots of goodbyes, a wedding….and that does not include crazy traditions and inside jokes that are all a part of the story.
The narrative continues day after day, year after year where we are a part of both a bigger, extended family unit, and our own smaller unit. Woven through the years in both these narratives are the good times and the hard times, the richer times, the poorer times, the times of sick and the times of well. The tapestry is made up of joy, grief, anger, peace, strife, reconciliation and laughter….always there has been laughter.
But for me this is about more than research, more than resilience from a family story. It’s about being part of a far bigger and far greater story – a story written by God himself. A story that tells of redemption and restoration, that gives me something greater than a family narrative, bigger than any earthly memories.
It’s this story, a story that tells of people willing to risk all because they believed, a story that gets bigger and better and truer each passing day, that gives me resilience, that tells me I am part of a narrative that is larger than all I am and all I have.
Because the story I’m in now, as good and as hard as it sometimes is, is just the beginning of that Great Story where “every chapter is better than the one before.”
“But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.” from The Last Battle by CS Lewis
*From “The Stories That Bind Us” by Bruce Feiler published in NY Times “This Life”.
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