Two years ago, after my lecture for the National Oral Health Conference in Huntsville Alabama, I grabbed some dinner at the hotel restaurant. When I went to pay my bill, the server told me it was taken care of. I inquired by whom. I walked over to the ‘lady over there.’ Shelly Spoeth, currently a VP at Hager Sharp explained that she wanted to do a kindness for the kindness I shared by telling my story. We became fast friends.
Today, Shelly’s company @HagerSharp sponsored my presentation, ‘Ignite the Power of Story,’ at the National Conference on Health, Communications, Marketing and Media. The theme of this years CDC’s conference is “What’s Your Story?” Attendees share stories to build awareness of their programs, solicit new funding, and educate the general public about healthy living. Stories are a tool for effective communications and they wanted to sharpen their storytelling tools.
Networking. Meeting new people. You never know how a little kindness can change worlds!
“We were engaged 35 years ago, but never married. Now, we are engaged again,” explained the couple sitting at the next table at the restaurant. I started talking to them when the server rolled the cooking table over with the ingredients to prepare my favorite dessert in the world, bananas foster, which is served flaming. Why not include the only other couple in the restaurant eating at 10:30PM right beside us.
“Now that’s a story. Why didn’t you marry 35 years ago?”
“Two friends of mine told me he got back together with his x-girlfriend. I came over to his house with a bat. He was drinking that night with friends and wouldn’t come outside to confront me. I wasn’t about to marry a man who was going to cheat on me. I went back home and never wanted to see him again.”
They both married other people. She was divorced in 6 years. Working on a submarine helped the longevity of his marriage. But ultimately, as he puts it, “I just didn’t get along with her boyfriend.”
When he was discharged as a disabled vet for requiring to live the rest of his life with a colostomy bag, and left his wife, he looked up his old flame. It didn’t take more than a couple of dates for them to realize they were meant to spend their lives together.
He no longer cooks for the submarine he worked on for two decades. Now, he cooks for his fiancee.
As we got up to leave, I wished them a long life together of good health and happiness. Oh, and then I asked them their names. Sharon and Tommy.
When I meet a person, I’m anxious to know their story. What do they stand for? How has their life experience shaped them? I met Samantha through this article in Business Insider and her story is worth telling. She is a professional hugger. She hugs people for $60/hour and makes $7200 a month. Soon she is opening a retail shop where she will certify Huggers in a 40 hour course. Oh, the stories she must hear! I’ll bet her next venture is to write a book about her hugging history! Samantha created a business cuddleuptome to meet one of her own needs: to be hugged, loved, accepted after being out of a relationship for 13 years.
How are you meeting your own needs in your line of work?
A story not silenced. When I spoke to this radio interviewer, I heard words are slightly slurred and others annunciated with a struggle. Very quickly into the conversation, I got past the struggle and heard the strong vice and smart mind of this man who has a passion to improve the world by being an example himself of overcoming big time limits. Christopher Powell interviewed me for 30 minutes on his Overcome Your Limits radio show about surviving stage IV tongue cancer. I could tell I was speaking with someone who understood the trials and tribulations of turning adversity into opportunity.
Chris was born with cerebral palsy. Despite his limitations, he began working out and left the wheelchair behind. He graduated from the University of Maryland in mathematics and is the director of a mathematical learning institute. He has even become an avid runner! Chris is the beneficiary of a recent technological advancement called Dragon NaturallySpeaking 10 which aides him in completing written tasks and allows for more independence in his overall life.
Chris inspires all who know him to move past your limitations and focus on your gifts! He has many….but just look at that smile and you can tell for yourself!
A story not silenced. She was raised by a single mother in upstate NY. She was a ‘good kid’ and stood out as a great dancer. By age 12, she knew she was gay and became outspoken about her discovery, causing unmanageable friction in the house. In this day and age, there are still parents who just can’t figure out how to accept their children for who they are and build on that uniqueness instead of having that nagging unrelenting feeling that they are ‘not what they imagined.’ What does a child do when she knows she isn’t loved and accepted? She breaks rules to prove she has power and worth. In this case, she stole bikes and fought with other teenagers. This single mom working a couple of jobs couldn’t handle any diversion from the well-behaved, grade-passing, obedient child, and moved her to a foster home.
This is a strong-willed child who didn’t accept government and parental demands about where she is to live. So, she ran away, many times. Finally, she asked to be moved to a foster home for gay youth, and this is where the turn in this story begins. Good for Carolyn – ask for what you want and need!
Once she was among young people who understood her and she them, she used this power and emotional stability to build on her unique talents. What a beautiful thing! If only all children had the chance to feel accepted, unconditionally loved, and praised on a regular basis for their unique talents, this world would be a happier, more productive place!
Her success story continues with dancing for people on the subway. My favorite line in the NYTimes article where I read about her, is the sign she displayed while dancing on the subway: ‘I’m all by myself — please show your love, not your anger.’ Once again, she is asking for what she needs and wants.
Within a couple of months, she joins a dancing crew. Then, another. Then, she starts her own dancing crew! She began getting jobs dancing at birthday parties and bar mitzvahs, and now has a roster of about 35 dancers to call upon. She receives Facebook messages from dancers all over the world sending video auditions for entry to her group.
So, what do we learn from this 20 year old success story? Ask for what you want. Accept children for who they are. Build self-esteem through praising the unique talents in a child.
Her name is Carolynn Clarke AKA Boogie. I’m going to look for her when I next visit Dr. Urken whose office is on Union Square right near where she and her crew, ‘The Raiders of Concrete’ dance.
“In my heart of hearts, I wanted to do the right thing, but selling drugs was easy. Everyone was doing it. I mean, I’m not using that as an excuse, I made my own decisions. But I grew up around these Robin Hood figures who would sell drugs, then buy supplies for kids who were going back to school, or pay rent for an old woman who was about to get evicted. All my friends were doing it. It almost seemed fashionable. I never felt proud of it. I always thought I’d transition to a job with the Transit Authority, or a job like this– something I’d feel good about, but instead I transitioned to jail. I did six years. When I got out, it was tempting to go back to the easy money, because everyone around me was still doing it, and I couldn’t get a job. But luckily I found an agency that helps ex-cons, because there aren’t many companies looking to give people a second chance. I’ve had this job for a few years now. You know what product I’m selling now? Myself. Everyone around here is my client. Times Square is a drug to these people. And I’m picking up all the trash so that they can have the full Times Square experience.”
A friend recently walked in memory of a young woman who took her life. I saw this poem and slightly adapted it to remove the religious tone. Those who fight suicidal thoughts may find some comfort in this poem:
A Higher Self
In this moment I choose to recognize that there is within me a perfect Self.
A Self that is not weak, but strong.
Not limited, but unlimited.
Not faithless and scared, but all-knowing, all-loving.
I have been playing with the toys of death and weakness.
I have been playing at sickness and addiction.
I have been playing at violation of myself and others.
But I desire to play the games of death no more.
In this moment, I ask to be released from my destructive thinking.
Turn my pain to peace, my fear to love.
May I feel the abundance of life’s magnificence.
May I feel the powerful love sent to me from the people in my life.
I look up to heaven and ask for light.
I step out of my childhood into my adulthood,
out of my weakness into my strength,
out of my small self into my renewed self.
Adapted slightly from Marianne Williamson, Illuminata
A story not silenced. A silver-haired man in a white t-shirt and jeans was going through Atlanta airport’s TSA in a wheelchair. He had no legs and only one arm. I thought to myself, how does he get into the airplane seat? How does he get over the thin ramp into the plane with the wheelchair? He was traveling alone. Does an airport employee lift him up or would that be too much risk?
While collecting my bags from the belt, I watched as TSA patted him down, feeling around his waist, his leg stump, and drooping sleeve. When they were done with him, I handed him his bag embroidered with the words “Freedom Isn’t Free.”
“Where are you off to?” I asked.
He replied, “Branson, Missouri.”
I had lectured there and knew what kind of town it was; very touristy; a combination of Vegas and Orlando. “Oh, are you going as a tourist?” I asked with some doubt.
“No. I’m speaking at a Vet conference.” OK, now I knew I was speaking to a kindred spirit.
“I’m a speaker too! I speak about surviving stage IV oral cancer. I just spoke in Vegas and I’m off to Anaheim, but I’m taking a detour home to attend the funeral of my father-in-law. How many lectures do you give a year?”
“Wow – that’s a lot. You travel by yourself?”
‘Inspiration Porn’ What a line! …spoken by Stella Young from Australia in her TEDTalk about living with a disability. Her message makes me realize that my survivorship, my attitude and will, isn’t exceptional. There are billions of cancer survivors who have stepped above the changes to their life. Surviving cancer is more a norm than an exception since we ALL know someone who has been touched by cancer. The fact that she can’t use her body the way most people do does not make her exceptional/inspirational, but what does is that she educates the world about her perspective. Thank you Stella for who you are.
We downloaded an app to see how fast we were skiing down Challenger at Solitude Mountain. It’s hard to believe I was skiing as fast as I drive on a highway. The wind whistled through my helmut. I wasn’t afraid to lean into it. Despite the speed, I was in control. So often, we are told to take things slowly. Don’t rush. It’s enthralling to do just the opposite; to cover a long distance in just minutes.
What did I learn from this? It is just like life. Life speeds by. One day you are diapering babies and the next day your are going to a college graduations. We cannot stop life from happening. But the bottom line is that we don’t want it to pass us by without noticing the experience of it.
I noticed that I barely took a breath at that speed, but I edged into the slope, and took the experience by the horns and ran with it. Fun! It’s important to mix fun into your life. What did you do for fun recently?
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