December 15, 2012

Narrative for Survival: My Grandmother’s Story

Stories can save lives. In One Thousand and One Nights, Sheherezade uses her storytelling talents to end King Shahrayr’s plot to punish his unfaithful wife by punishing all of the women of his kingdom.  Having put to death the unfaithful Queen herself, the King embarks on a plan to marry a virgin of the Kingdom each night, and to have each killed at dawn.  That is, until he marries Sheherezade, who spends her wedding night narrating to the King a most exciting and suspenseful tale. So exciting that the King puts off her death to hear how the story continues. And so their story continues for a thousand and one nights, after which the King abandons his goal to punish women, and marries Sheherezade.

My grandmother may not have had a thousand stories, but she had at least one, and telling it to an American Consul in 1939 saved her life and that of her husband and baby, when it permitted her to leave warring Europe on one of the last ships to cross the Atlantic. I had the opportunity to tell it at a local TedX event earlier this year, and was delighted when TEDx organizers chose it as one of their favorites.  I’d love to hear about other stories that have saved lives, if you have one you’d like to share.

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