Book Review of
“The Healing Power of Stories: Creating Yourself Through the Stories of Your Life” by Daniel Taylor
We were Americans living in Tokyo, Japan when Reagan bombed Gaddafi. I will never forget getting on a train the next morning with my two babies, both under three, and staring straight into the dark brown eyes of two men of Middle Eastern heritage. They did not look away. And I remember being frightened enough to stand and exit at the next stop, choosing instead to wait for a new train to take me to my destination. Someone threatened to bomb the American School in Japan that day. For the first and really the only time in my life, the color of my skin made me susceptible to acts of aggression on the part of complete strangers.
As I begin to write this book review, riots are erupting throughout the country over the murder of George Floyd. On one hand, America’s heart is breaking over injustice. On the other, American anger is erupting on city streets in such a way as to cause damage and heartache to innocent people who simply have the misfortune of owning businesses in inner cities. And the book I am reading is called “The Healing Power of Stories”.
We who write for Cultivating and, I am assuming, that many who read it, are people who do what we do because we want to make a difference.
We want to write or sing, dance or create art, take pictures or perform music in such a way that lives are changed. Stories, both the ones we tell ourselves and the ones others tell to us, have the power to do just that, but we will each have to make choices to bring about the changes we all so earnestly desire.
What kinds of choices? Choices to listen, to engage in community. As the author of this book states, “Community is formed only by shared stories, not by monologues. Empathetic listening is followed, in time, by reciprocal storytelling. I know I have a place in the community not only as I hear and accept its stories but as it hears and makes room for mine.” (Taylor, 120)
So what is it about the stories we have heard and the stories we have told that has brought us to this place in our shared American history? We have had and we have told two very different stories. One story highlights the wonders of a new nation conceived in liberty, which held wide open the door of opportunity to anyone who dared walk through it. The other closed that door to the African-American man for many, many years. By the time the door cracked open, the stories were so deeply ingrained and the heartache so deeply known that no amount of reasoning could overcome the pain. And as we all know, whether we are African-American or Caucasian, Asian or Native American, it is often less frightening to live with the pain we know rather than risk it for a pain we know nothing about.
There are ways to heal some of our stories, and to replace those we cannot heal, but healing and replacing will take time and require courage. Courage to make choices. Courage to live into stories that give each of us, not just white middle-class America, a sense of hope and purpose. Courage to extend grace when extending grace is the last thing we would like to do.
Mr. Taylor says that the ultimate act of empathy is grace. Those of us who write fiction spend a lot of time talking about the role of the imagination. Grace is the “act of imagining ourselves in other people’s shoes. Such an act of imagination is a story act. It is being able to see oneself as a character in another’s story, and acting in accordance with that imaginative perception in one’s own.” (Taylor, 133)
How might imagining ourselves as a character in the African-American man’s story affect his ability to heal the broken parts of his culture? How might imagining him in ours heal our own?
This is a book about the healing power of stories. It is not a book about race or color, nor is it a book about injustice or the ugly effects thereof. But in looking to story, we are invited to see a way to heal what is broken and mend what is not whole. Any book that gives us the tools to do these things is a worthwhile read, indeed.
And if you, like me, have ever wondered what it is about fairy tales that has the power to enrich and transform a child’s life and assist in the development of a virtuous man, look no further than this book. You’ll find exactly what you need on page 128. (You didn’t think I was going to reveal every wonderful thing about this book, did you?)
(Taylor, Daniel. The Healing Power of Stories: Creating Yourself Through the Stories of Your Life. New York: Doubleday, 199
The featured image titled “Walter’s Books 1” is (c) Lancia E. Smith and used with her permission for Cultivating and The Cultivating Project.
This is an image of the library of Walter Hooper, beloved friend and Literary Advisor for the C.S. Lewis Estate, made in his home in Oxford.
Jen is a sixty-something mother to three grown sons, wife to one wonderfully faithful man, and her heart is consistently filled with wonder and delight at all things true, good, and beautiful. Tucked away in her own little house on the prairie, she enjoys reading, writing, and playing on the floor with her two-year-old grand baby and his vast collection of colorful choo-choo trains. As the founder of The Classical Christian Schooling Network and Digest, her roots run deep in the classical Christian schooling world. In her spare time, she enjoys drinking tea and cultivating friendships with fairy tale creatures.