Doctor's Notes column: Bedtime stories to make us open our eyes

When we read the stories of others, we realise we are not aloneWhen we read the stories of others, we realise we are not alone
When we read the stories of others, we realise we are not alone
Many of you will remember being told stories as a child;  stories to go to sleep with.

You may remember the bribery – ‘just one more story please, then I really will go to sleep’ – and you will certainly remember the repetition. The story that had to be read time and time again!

Can you remember the stories you were told? I can’t.

If I am honest, I can recall just one, and it wasn’t a bedtime story.

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My grandad was bombed out of his home at the end of the war and came to live with us.

He was a country boy and told me how he wrapped his finger with horsehair to look like an injury and thus avoid school.

He told me many, many more stories, but they have all slipped from my memory.

I have spent my life listening to stories, true stories, the story of people’s lives.

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In my life as a doctor – family doctor and consultant at the hospice – and then as a priest, I could not see people out of context, out of the context of their lives.

They could not simply be a symptom or a disease, or struggling with loss and grief.

They could not simply be a person confused with their faith and the meaning of their life.

They could never be just a problem, the problem was a stepping stone in the story of their lives.

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No surprise then that newspapers are full of Covid stories, Windrush stories and Black Lives Matter stories.

Just as I found, in my life as a doctor, they are therapeutic for the storyteller – making some sense out of tragedy – and for us who read or listen, we can learn, have our eyes opened.

We all benefit.

Sometimes we feel isolated, it ‘has only happened to me’.

When we hear or read the stories of others, then we realise we are not alone.

Let me offer you an example. A son described how his father had been clapped out of intensive care after a long, long stay there with Covid.

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You will have heard similar stories, but when he described hearing the claps of others while his dad was still on ICU and not expected to live, his conflicted emotions when patients recovered – but not his dad – how suddenly palpable it all was.

How would I feel?

My grandad told me stories about his country childhood, but never, never spoke of his time in the trenches in World War One, never described the bombing of his home, the killing of my nan.

Remembering things, telling stories, bring the past into the present when the present is not ready for it.

I was often aware of that, stories alluded to, but too painful to be told.

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We speak when we are ready and not before. It is easy for us to be curious but curiosity must wait.

The fact that the Covid stories are emerging so quickly is healthy; the Windrush and BLM stories illustrate just how long they have been buried.

Buried for personal reasons and released when we are ready to hear.

Our bedtime stories were told to help us to sleep.

These modern stories are there to wake us up, to make us more aware, to be prepared to change.

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