The Value of Story

We are a culture of texts and Twitter feeds, PowerPoint and Gallup polls. We’re addicted to data, scanning headlines, intolerant of emails that require scrolling. Get to the point. Be concise. Chop! Chop!

What happened to a good story? A narrative arc? A hero’s journey?



We are hardwired to learn through and build connections by the old-fashioned power of story. The Greeks gave us mythology. Jesus spoke in parables. George Lucas lured us in with an epic tale of Jedis vs. The Dark Side. Across culture and time, we see ourselves in the tragedy and triumph of others. This is empathy.

I’ve been reading though a journal I kept during my early years as a hospice social worker. For nearly a decade, my patients shared their stories with me, engaging in life review as they anticipated their own death. Thanks to them, I learned how to listen. Thanks to them, I learned how to pause. I learned to savor the goodness.

July 2006

Within minutes of meeting Jacob, I knew I was gonna like him. At 95, his recall was incredible and his love for storytelling evident. He was riding dirt bikes into his 80s, exercising to this very day. His favorite jokes, quotes, photographs, and life highlights were bound into 2 scrapbooks, providing rich opportunity for me to delve into the marrow. He was engaging, charming, and funny as hell.

Jacob escorted me into his modest home with a spryness that defied his age. In no time, we were  knee-deep in the past, reliving the opening of the pool his family managed for more than 60 years. He proudly showed off photos of swimmers splashing about, circa 1910.

City of Portland Archives

Sellwood Park Pool, 1935, City of Portland Archives

He told tales of the war, his family, his move to Portland in the 1960s. When I asked him what was most important in his life today, he quickly pronounced, “Life itself!”

Before I left his home, he told me about the ritual he and his son share each evening as his son prepares to leave for the night:

“Dad, Can I get you anything else before I go?”

“One more day, son, one more day.”

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