Sunday, June 24, 2012

Silence Makes a Powerful Noise

From Sinbad the Sailor and Other Stories of
the Arabian Nights by
Edmund Dulac, 1914
“The first duty of love is to listen.” 
~Paul Tillich

Julie,* one of my storytelling students was debilitatingly shy, barely speaking above a whisper, not only to me, but her teachers and peers. Her mother shared, “She's not only shy but struggles with a social disability. It’s a gigantic step for her to even ask to be part of the storytelling troupe.”

Julie* attended all of the storytelling classes, participated in activities, chose a story, and allowed me to coach her, but I had to lean in very close to hear the story. Slowly, she learned to trust me and began to tell me about the things she loved. One day she said, “I love horses!” On the advice on my friend and colleague Mark Goldman, I found her a new, wonderful Scottish story, The Kelpie of Loch Garve, a tale about a magical black horse. I adapted the tale down to very manageable size, and she took to it like, well, like a kelpie to water!

She could tell the tale with “and then what happened” prompting from me but never as one fluid piece. Then, one day while coaching Julie* I noticed a very large ice cream scoop in the room (my coaching space was also storage for PTO supplies).Let’s use this as your microphone” I said. I moved a small desk in front of her, (as her stage front) handed her the scoop, and asked her to tell the story. She thought the scoop was quite funny and this time, with a smile and a giggle, she told it all the way through without prompting!

During another coaching session Julie* agreed to come to the auditorium with me. I took her on stage, positioned her in front the microphone and said, “Will you help me with a sound check for the upcoming festival? I left the stage and standing in front of her walked slowly backwards towards the far wall. Stopping at various intervals, I encouraged her to say her name and the name of her story. Each time she projected her voice just a little bit louder until I reached the back wall. Success!

With all of the troupes in-school performances I made sure Julie* could assist me in some way, pouring the water, arranging the chairs, etc. and assured her that she was our “featured listener.” "After all, how could we tell stories without our listeners?" She sat with the tellers, listening, applauding, but still never told her story.

As the festival night approached I spoke with her mother, and requested that Julie* still attend the festival, emphasizing that she was part of our team. Every year, at the end of each festival the storytellers receive my “Applause Award,” which specifically honors those who take the stage. As I printed out the awards the week before I realized it wouldn’t be appropriate for Julie* and might diminish the award for the other tellers. Yet, I couldn’t leave her out of this significant part of the evening. Hadn’t I been telling her that she was a valuable part of our team? What could I do to honor her contribution as well? My words came back to me…”Julie*, you are the featured listener!” And so, the Featured Listener Award was brought to life!

The night of the festival Julie* arrived beautifully dressed in purple, her favorite color, and took her place with the tellers in the Green Room. Did they tease her for deciding not to tell? I’m delighted and proud to share that they greeted her with love and care, tenderly supporting her choice and thanked her for being there for them.

Although Julie* didn’t step onto the stage that night I truly believe she has begun to rewrite her life story. I applaud her incredible bravery and hope she always remembers how valuable her voice is, no matter how softly she speaks.

*Julie is a pseudonym

Karen Chace 2012 ©

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Anonymous said...

Julie's story is wonderful. You did so much for her -- what a forceful wind beneath her wings you have been. Congrats to you both!
And your leadership and modeling of kindness toward her did not go unnoticed by the others -- of course they followed your lead and enfolded her into their midst when she arrived on festival night.
Congrats to all of you!

Yvonne said...

Truly you made a difference in that family's lives as well as the other teammates who learned to practice kindness.

Karen Chace said...

Such lovely words Sue; thank you so much. Coming from someone whose work ethic and creativity I admire so much...they are golden balm for my spirit!


Carolyn Stearns said...

As a Mom of a child who was so shy she never spoke a word in school until after the Christmas break I appreciate the effort made for Julie. Indeed, this was a turning point in her life because when she spoke, someone important listened and approved. Bravo Karen for making Julie a Featured Listener and encouraging everyone to embrace the shy child as the gift of listening. Mine found her voice in high school, eventually earning a BA in Theatre a BS in Communications ( she knows the value!) and MA in Creative Writing

Karen Chace said...

Thank you for your encouraging words Carolyn and for sharing your daugther's story. She sounds like an amazing young woman; no surprise there, she has an amazing mother!


Karen Chace said...

Thank you Yvonne, I like to think you are right. Children today need to see that kindess can work small miracles that just might turn into big ones.

I must admit, I think Julia taught me more than I taught her!


Muriel storyteller said...

Karen- Your story is indeed inspiring and speaks volumes about your respect for children (and for adults, too, for that matter). Having a son with special needs, I am particularly sensitive to finding ways to include people of all abiities in our work.

Mary Grace said...

Tender story! What an important turn in this child's life you provided!

Mikey said...


I see the butterfly effect one-hundred-fold through what you do. Power to "Julie" and her listening peers!

Karen Chace said...

Hey Mikey!

Thank you for that lovely compliment. Butterflies indeed!


Karen Chace said...


It is comforting to know, coming from you, who has walked the walk with your son, that I was on the right path with Julie. I appreciate your support!