Rediscovering Our Value
©Kaye Byrnes 2020
Where were you in March, when COVID-19 swept away our storytelling venues? Did you have programs scheduled in schools, libraries, care and senior centers, festivals? Over the course of three days I was flooded with emails and phone calls, “I’m so sorry but…” Cancelled, cancelled, cancelled.
I watch as others begin the transition to virtual programming. Can this old dog learn that new trick? A few opportunities convince me I can but telling stories into a camera is not the same. For some of us, it’s a lot more technical work and less satisfaction. Where does that leave storytellers like me, and maybe you too?
Adrift and afraid. Suspended between the trapeze bars, letting go of what was known and reaching for something new. I wonder if and when storytellers will again gather face-to-face with people, earn a living and revel in the joy of that “story bubble.” But sometimes in the winds of change, we find our true direction.
A local friend brought her elderly mother, Gladys, to Florida for the winter. COVID prevented them from taking her home as planned. Like all our snowbirds, Gladys loved the warm weather and her studio apartment in the pool house. At 88, she had become rather sedentary and over-indulged in blueberry pie. Since she knew no one here, I visited often and we became buddies, enjoying our time together. We sat in the pool house, singing as I strummed my ukulele. She told me of the many places she had long ago visited with her now deceased beloved, Chuck. She delighted in watching old show tunes on YouTube.
She had never heard of storytelling and quickly became a fan. Not once did I arrive or depart without her remarking with a smile, “Don’t forget, I want another story.” Sharing the story bubble with Gladys let me keep one toe in that precious space.
In early June, Gladys was diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer and courageously declined any treatment. She rode out the last weeks of life in the pool house, asking for more stories. In her final days she would nod her head, eyes closed as she listened. On August 16, she quietly passed away. It will always be my sacred honor to have given her the comfort and joy that stories offer us all.
It was great to earn a living as a storyteller, affirming to have gigs on the calendar and rewarding to hear the applause. But Gladys reminded me that’s not what it’s about. We are storytellers. We are artists that gather stories in our heart and hold them there forever. The greatest satisfaction comes from telling the right story, to the right person, at the right time; knowing that the story has moved from your heart to theirs.
As we navigate these crazy, upside-down, inside-out days of change let’s remember and hold on to our true purpose as storytellers; to entertain, to enlighten, to educate, to comfort, to calm. Our value lies not on a stage but in the stories.
Kaye Byrnes has been sharing stories with children and adults since 1996. Her repertoire of folktales, fairy tales, fables, myths, legends, and classic literature along with original and historical stories is carefully crafted for listeners of any age. Pre-COVID, she performed regularly for schools, libraries, care facilities, service groups, festivals, conferences and community events. As a workshop and retreat leader, Byrnes helps others find their own creative spirit and storytelling voice. Her workshops are highly participatory and those who come with trepidation leave inspired and confident. These days, she spend her days wondering what the future holds.