Wisdom Stories and Cliffhangers

I looked at my Dad across the kitchen table.  Breathing tubes wrap around his face and the sound of air bursts every few seconds as an air compressor pushes oxygen through the tube.  We just spent a few hours talking about politics, the decay of our neighborhood and how washing machines just aren't worth repairing any more.  I relished these mundane topics and these times with him because I knew there were precious few remaining.

I thought about asking him the next question over the last few months.  A question about my ancestry.  About our relationship.  THE question.  I got a little nervous as the words swam around in my head like letters floating in alphabet soup.  The kitchen table seemed to stretch between us.  It is time. 

The Cliffhanger

Have you ever read a Dan Brown novel?  Da Vinci Code, Angels and Demons, Inferno.  He is a modern master of the cliffhanger.  Every chapter ends in a mini cliffhanger so you must turn the page to see what happens next!  Before you know it, hours go by and you're on the last page.  The race is complete.  You feel relieved, spent and satisfied.

Although storytellers have always used 'cliffhangers', the term cliffhanger has its origins in the late 1870's as applied to Thomas Hardy's, A Pair of Blue Eyes (source:  wikipedia.org). 

Great stories bring you to the edge of your seat.  You are right there in the scene with the storyteller.  As you run through the forest, you feel the branches slap across your thighs.  Your heart-rate quickens.  You smell fire in the air.  You're running at full speed.  You race past the last tree and the edge of that cliff rushes to meet you way too fast!  You grab the edge of that cliff with every muscle in each toe to prevent yourself from falling!  

Welcome to the cliffhanger!

Why is it important to learn about cliffhangers and storytelling? 

Stories are an ancient way to convey meaning.  Imagine our ancient ancestors, telling stories around the fire about their discoveries and conquests of the day.  One family story can convey family values for generations!  Now that's dramatic!  We tell stories to children to help set their moral compass and build character.  Religious and spiritual texts are chocked FULL of stories and parables.

Stories are like bottles of Wisdom.  Inside each bottle is a delicious wisdom!

Many believe great storytellers were born with an innate ability to spin a good tale.  Perhaps true.  Storytelling is certainly a craft masters spend years honing.  But storytelling is also a skill which anyone can learn and improve.  Embed the right story in a corporate presentation…. budget approved.  Tell a great story as part of a sales presentation…deal closes.  Tell an engaging and meaningful story to your child…no more misbehaving for the rest of their life!  Okay, probably not.  But they'll probably quiet down for a few minutes to listen to your story.

Next time you tell a story, build in a nice cliffhanger.  Take them to the edge and then ..... pause there.  Just long enough for them to realize they're WITH you!  Long enough for them to ask … what happens next!

Now, back to the Story with my Dad…

I needed to ask him THE question.  I'd been thinking about this question for months and now was the time.  I might never get the chance again.  I asked my Dad,

"Did you love your Dad?"

A palpable stillness came into the room as his eyes glistened and got distant.  He responded with barely a whisper.  "Yes."  A tear formed in the corner of his eye.  I had never seen my Dad cry.  In the next moment, he remembered where he was, his youngest son sitting across from him at the kitchen table.  With a slight tip of his head and a quick flick of his finger, he wiped away the barely-formed tear.  The rest of the afternoon was magical as he shared stories of his precious time with his Dad, the grandfather I never knew. 

I miss you, Dad!

When we tell our stories, we reveal a something about ourselves, our beliefs, our philosophies.  We become a little more human and a lot more real.  As we hone our storytelling skills, we show up more authentically with co-workers, customers, friends and our families.  They see our true selves….and we connect.  Share your stories!

Wisdom isn't wisdom until it's shared!


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