Lately I’ve been studying the work of Thomas King. He asserts, and I agree with him, that once a story is heard, it cannot be unheard. Yet there is more to the ‘cannot be unheard-conversation.’ Certainly, in King’s work he digs deeper. In classrooms, however, though stories are heard, they are often made silent or kept hidden. I don’t think the single responsibility for silencing stories lies with educators and/or education systems. I have felt the ripple effects of silenced stories in every community where I have lived, in every school where I have worked and with many kids I have taught. I know the stories I too try to keep silent.
I often think it is the silenced stories that most alter a journey; it is the silenced stories that are given no voice that become stories to leave by.
I have a sense that some stories are so painful that today, even today, I can only come to live alongside them, in the clenched-molar-spaces as I grind my teeth at night, waking Jess one room over. Perhaps sharing the reverberations loosens their bite.
“[A]n education that is about knowing differently rather than knowing more may be humanity’s best hope” (Davis, Sumara & Luce-Kapler, 2000, p. 9). I hope knowing differently, means honouring all stories. I’ve been thinking about the stories schools keep silent. I been thinking about the stories I’ve listened to my community keep silent. I’ve been thinking a lot about suicide-stories. These stories are the stories that have focused my work, and that have storied my community and me. Yet, these stories are the ones most hidden, most silenced. These stories are my stories. Yet perhaps out of ignorance, perhaps out of nervousness, and sometimes out of fear, I shut the door. I often silence suicide stories.
I live in the midst of the reverberations of suicide stories. I want to share differently, know differently, I want to honour stories. I am tired of closing doors.
Last week a student sent this message:
“I’ll make you a deal. I’ll talk [publicly] about the suicides in my life …and you do too.”
My first response was nervousness. Afterwards, I felt like I wanted to share. I wrote to my teacher, a person with whom I have a trusting relationship:
i paused to wonder if the focus of my work should be singularly on suicide-stories. i struggle, i silence myself everyday to share, to share differently, more or better. my pause was months in the making. however, there are other silenced stories. i never knew how loud my silent puzzling months had been. i never knew how beautifully kids listen.
You see, three years ago my friend lost her son to suicide. She was one of the best moms and best teachers I have ever met. Later, standing in a parking lot, I held her hand as she told me she had to leave her home-city because this place kept retelling her story as a story to leave by. My friend’s son had a best friend name Sam (pseudonym). At the time, Sam lived next door to me and my daughter, Jess. Jess grew up playing with Sam, inventing games on the front steps and on the bumpy streets under the protective overhang of the giant elms trees. When I came home that first day after learning about the suicide, I remember the sound of the trampoline as Sam’s repetitions finally ceased and he coming over to me to share. I held his hands through the latticework of the fence while we whispered stories back and forth.
I remember that first day in my classroom after learning about the suicide, and being told it might be best not to return to my classroom being upset. I remember that the students were already living in the midst of the suicide-story; they were already confused and worried and upset. I remember returning to our safe storying space and not knowing where to begin or how to explain. I remember that I told the kids these things. I shared my feelings. I shared that I was grateful we were together. I shared a personal story; I shared all I know about my friend as wonderful mom and as wonderful teacher. I remember I had begun with story.
Two and a half years later, I remember wrapping my arms around Sam during a Halloween event as he learned, for the first time, that his best friend’s family had moved away.
A few days ago, when Sam’s family also moved, Sam was unable to come and say goodbye; next door is a long way. Stories to leave by are loud. Jess too was unable to cross the silent property line to say goodbye; reverberations run deep. The next morning the moving truck pulled away. It was all so normal and so calm.
Stories matter, for all of us.
i know you are happy to be away from [here] and that’s good. i want you to know how much you and your family have meant to me and to jess every moment we have lived here. jess is in tears right now, though im certain she’d not want me to tell you so. and likely in tears aching for the days gone by.
days gone by are the hardest to say goodbye to. and maybe we never do say goodbye, or never really have too. some memories are harder than others. i think the best of love & of life is suppose stay with us.
sam. my whole life i will never forget the amazing young man you are. you remind me of my dad; jess saw this in you too, sam; the kindest and best of people.
be happy. take care of you. and someday, someday, stop in. come home.
most of all. be very very happy.
much, much love. cori (& jessy lee)
I am so tired of closing doors.
Okay, I’m nervous, but let’s try…