• Austen Hayes

Dose #23: Every Life Is A Story

In The News - This week I'm posting a notice about a program I believe deserves mention. If you're involved in a program you'd like to promote, something you believe will benefit our readers, please let me know. I'll post "In The News" when I hear of anything that helps to make life better.


A blog reader I know has been working tirelessly for the past four years, developing and promoting a remarkable self-advocacy group, "Community as Family("CAF). The program was designed initially as a support system for congregants of New York's Temple Emanu-El, those without"willing and reliable family members" available to provide care as members in their late 40's and 50's "age solo" and the need for support grows.


The idea of CAF is to encourage members to "...live independently with better awareness and understanding of resources, with a supportive A-team, and deepening engagement and strengthening relationships within the temple community". Fortunately, as the population ages, the urgent need for such a program is generating its own kindling effect, causing CAF to gain notice and popularity well beyond the temple.


Most recently, CAF facilitator (Small Doses reader), Wendl Kornfeld, gave a PowerPoint presentation as a part of the United Nations NGO Committee on Ageing, where attendees from around the globe shared concerns about the aging man or woman living alone who may be childless and without family support. The presentation was a huge success.


If this might be of interest to you - for yourself or someone you know - please send your inquiry to wendlkornfeld1@gmail.com...thank you.

The 'Old Country'

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This Week's Dose...Every Life Is A Story...


"Now through careful manipulation and good storytelling, you can get everybody to clap at the same time, to hopefully laugh at the same time, and to be afraid at the same time."

~ Steven Spielberg


I grew up listening to stories - stories about the 'old country', about relatives long dead but not forgotten. Stories of challenge and triumph, of sad endings and joyful beginnings, things acquired, in equal numbers lost. Of people with wealth and others who barely got by. Of those who lived to be very old, and those whose lives were lost too soon to accidents, bad living, disease and war.


There was the story of a great uncle, Bishop Moore, who in an earlier century, founded a church in Australia. There was another story told of my great-great-great-grandfather, known by the name, "Goose Cap Falvey", a reference to the tasseled fez he'd begun wearing while working for The East India Company in the mid-1700s. After returning to live in Ireland with the bride he'd met in India, the daughter they brought into the world would later marry my great-great-grandfather, a country physician by the name of William Hayes. My grandmother spoke of her grandfather, "Willie", patriarch of a family that, by the telling, celebrated life in a home alive with children, dogs and horses for 'the hunt'.


There was my great grandmother, who purchased a red silk gown in anticipation of an invitation never received for a party to be hosted by her mother-in-law, my great-great-grandmother. As the story goes, the message was clear when only weeks later, when on the day of the funeral for this woman who before her death from a fall, had rejected the daughter-in-law she thought not in her class, my grandmother's mother let her feelings be known when she attended the service dressed in red.


There was my grandmother's uncle who during summers when she was a child would teach her how to count money at his meat packing business - a skill she would later use well as a young woman building a life in America. And there was the story I heard since childhood about my fourth great grandfather who was the first cousin to Jane Austen's father, George.

When I was three I would run upstairs to my great Aunt's apartment, hoping she would ask if I'd had breakfast. It was always a second breakfast but I would say, "no", waiting for an invitation to sit, longing to learn more of the days when my mother was a little girl...what was she like? She went to school when she didn't feel well? Did she really fly down the highest hill on Lexington Avenue, small and delicate, but fearless in roller skates?


At the age of five I often knocked on the door of an elderly woman who lived alone. I would stare at the flowered plastic table cloth on her old wooden table as she talked about the weather or the flowers soon to come. I was too young to know anything about her, but I understood that she was alone.


About the same time, my grandfather taught me how to play the piano and the card game, Solitaire. He was a man of few words, but I 'read' his story as I watched his long, bony fingers move with ease across the black and white keys or carefully arrange the playing cards into a pattern, slowly enough for me to follow. "Grandfather George" would let out an occasional, "...hmmm", frequently followed by a long puff on a sweet smelling pipe held between his teeth. I learned so much from this man who's story was told not in words, but in the care he took with music and the gentleness he showed when on walks to the village he would hold not only my hand, but the hand of my doll, hanging awkwardly between us.


When I was eight I couldn't wait to run home when the noon bell rang to share stories with my mother over a cup of Campbell's Tomato Soup with saltine crackers. I'm not sure what we said, but the memories are of a lively half hour filled with gentleness and soft words. It was about that time I would hear stories of the cold waters and chilled nights at sea during WWII, a story repeated again and again in the form of a cough my father brought home after years in the British Navy - a cough that would weaken and later stop his heart when I was sixteen.


A lifetime later, when my sister, mother and I would tell stories, the soup had turned into wine and the tales were filled with gossip and laughter about the folly of life, including how when we weren't paying attention, we had become the "Golden Girls".


What's the fascination of the story? The people and how they lived it? Is it the eyes as the story is told, the hesitation, the smoothing of cloth with their hands as they recall the details, is it the laugh at themselves as something once disturbing becomes amusing with time? Is it the struggle of life? Is it hope or is it hope lost followed by life only tolerated until the end? Is it how astonishing people can be...how strong, how brave, how determined?


Life is a gathering, watching, listening, meandering through the pathways laid down in every mind. As a child I had no idea the career I would choose would supply me with hundreds more stories. Told one at a time like a novel, opened, presented, narrated, no story the same, each a miracle in its own way.

As I grow older, I understand more of why those elderly people attracted me so when I was a child...their stories were ripe for the telling. With age comes the opportunity to look back...to put the puzzle pieces of one life story together...making sense of it all. With time comes the ability to finally know what matters, which memories to hold, which to let go. From the perspective of the later years, life is no longer seen as a series of separate events, one to the next...but, more like a long, woven rug or a raging, vibrant river, one element touched by the one before...moving the next piece along.


If we tell our story, will we matter? Will we pass something on that will linger slightly longer than our physical presence allows? Will we acknowledge deeply felt connections, one to the other? In the telling of a story are we saying, "I am like you", "...come with me, walk with me, if only for this moment"?


Writing is a form of storytelling. I read a lot about what motivates writers to write. What should they write about? Why? To whom? Some say you should write about what you know. Others say if you did, you would run out of content in a matter of weeks. Some say you should write to an audience of one, others say there should be no imagined audience, you should write for yourself.


It takes courage to write. To be brave enough to tell other people's stories, to tell your own - either way they're yours. To know you may be judged or ignored. To consider how inconsequential what you say may be. To realize you have to do it anyway. If only for an audience of one.


From etchings on a cave wall, to words delivered as if by magic to an 'inbox' with your name on it, stories never stop forming...it's hard not to notice, then imagine, then share with anyone willing to listen.


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© austenhayes.com

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