If you are ever feeling out of sorts, alone or untouched, tell someone the story of something that has touched you.

The book “The Power of Kindness,” author Piero Ferrucci talks about how human beings are able to “resonate” with other human beings.

I love this concept.

Ferrucci says the ability to resonate is with us from birth, but if it doesn’t develop sufficiently we are in trouble. Me, I think the ability can be cultivated at any time in our lives. Certainly, it’s easier to resonate when we’re younger, before we’ve had years of not resonating or not resonating well. But the ability to resonate is always there inside us, just waiting to be tapped.

And a great means to tap it is through storytelling. 

Really, if you are ever feeling out of sorts, alone or untouched, try telling the story of something that has touched you. See if I what I’m suggesting isn’t true.

A few years back, I developed a class for teenagers on the subject of empathy. I wasn’t at all sure how many students would be interested. And since the classes that get scheduled at the school I created, Puget Sound Community School (PSCS) in Seattle, are determined by student interest, I honestly wasn’t sure if this class would make the cut.

Puget Sound Community School is celebrating its 25th year this year.

Typically, more than 75 classes are offered to the students for each of the school’s main three terms, and the maximum any student can attend is around 20. To help the students decide what to prioritize, facilitators, or teachers, “pitch” their class ideas.

You may think that the teachers are trying to “sell” the students on an idea, what I would say is a form of coercion at odds with the school’s philosophy. What is actually happening is adults wanting to help young people make informed choices.

In a school like PSCS, class pitches often involve storytelling. And when a story resonates with the students, they will prioritize the class.

Ella in Melinda’s arms in the ICU. (Photo credit, the author.)

When I pitched the empathy class, I told the story of visiting my newborn daughter Ella in Children’s Hospital one Saturday morning in early 1997, she having been admitted, along with my wife, Melinda, because of a possible case of meningitis.

Ella was about 2 weeks old.

The day before, Melinda and I had taken Ella to the doctor because she had a high fever and the doctor ordered us to the emergency room. There, Ella experienced a spinal tap, during which the nurse’s assistant passed out and Melinda had to step in and hold still the crying/screaming baby Ella while the doctor inserted a needle into her spinal cord to get a fluid sample.

Fearing meningitis, the doctors hospitalized Ella and treated her as if she had the illness while the fluid was tested over a period of three days. Melinda stayed with Ella while I was at home with her older sister, Chloe, then 3 years-old.

So early that Saturday, with my mom having come to watch Chloe, I arrived at Children’s Hospital to be with Ella & Melinda. At that time of day they have a special entrance for parents. I entered there and took the elevator to the Intensive Care Unit, where Ella was being watched.

Exiting the elevator I encountered one of the most moving scenes of my life — a young boy playing with a remote control car. Picture this:

  • 8 o’clock, Saturday morning.
  • Playing like little boys all over the world, down a dark and deserted hospital hall came a pajama-clad boy directing his car, remote control in hand.
  • Keeping up next to him was his father, pushing the IV cart, making sure it stayed attached to his little boy’s arm.
These days, Ella is a professional baker. (Photo credit, the Oregon Culinary Institute.)

It was so poignant that it took my breath away. A little boy just being a little boy on a Saturday morning. And a dad just being a dad, doing what he needed to do so his boy could play.

So I told that story to the students during my class pitch. Lots of students prioritized the class after that and it made it on the school schedule.

The second week I brought in photographer Lynette Johnson as a guest speaker (perhaps of interest, Lynette was one of the photographers at the Bill & Melinda Gates wedding). Several years previously, when I first met her, she was trying to start a nonprofit organization.

The purpose?

To provide professional photographs to parents of their terminally ill children before they died.

Yeah, kind of hits you right there, doesn’t it?

A screenshot from the Soulumination website.

Lynette succeeded in starting her nonprofit and has since been featured in People Magazine and on the TV show “Today.” She calls her nonprofit Soulumination and they’ve since expanded their services. They now take professional portraits, at no charge, of terminally ill parents so their children will have photos to help remember them.

In the Empathy class, Lynette told the students why she started the nonprofit, tearing up each time she told the story of one of the children she has photographed.

Artwork by Fish Astronaut.

Two weeks after introducing the students to Lynette, I took them off campus to meet a couple in their 90’s who live in the same retirement community as my parents. Both had lost their spouses and finding the other, they thought it made sense to share an apartment rather than pay for two. But the conservative retirement home in which they lived wouldn’t allow this unless they married.

So they got married.

In chatting with them, the students and I learned the woman was at Pearl Harbor in 1941 when it was bombed. She told us what that experience was like, including first-hand detail of seeing the Japanese planes in formation.

What stories these two people had to tell a group of teenagers!

Feel the resonance in any of my stories? If so, did experiencing this resonance change how you were feeling?

Pay attention to this.

What stories do you have to tell?

Tell them.

Andy Smallman works to promote ordinary activities that awaken kindness, helping people connect to their true nature and increase peace in the world. Visit Andy at AndySmallman.com.
Andy Smallman works to promote ordinary activities that awaken kindness, helping people connect to their true nature and increase peace in the world. Visit Andy at AndySmallman.com.

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