Every Lunar New Year’s Eve, after the family had finished the reunion dinner, brandy would be served and we would sit around and tell stories. Every year, dad would tell the same story, about how he was bombed during World War 2 and was buried alive. He was saved by a Japanese rescue team looking for Japanese survivors but who rescued him because they couldn’t tell he was a Chinese since he was covered with dust. I can imagine him now in his shorts and vest telling the story. He was a great storyteller and told many stories, but he told this story every year. At first, I was curious as to why he did this. Surely he knew that we had heard the story many times. In time, I realised that he didn’t tell the story because he had forgotten that we knew it. He told the story because it was a key incident that defined him. He didn’t want us to forget. Maybe he didn’t want to forget.
Older folks talk a lot. This used to frustrate me when we had discussion groups of people from many generations. I would get upset when I saw boomers dominating a discussion, doing most, if not all, of the talking and giving no chance for the younger members in the group to speak. In all my teaching on small-group discussions I always emphasise that everyone in a group should be given an opportunity to share and they should help each other share. This is very important especially for millennials and Gen Zs who learn through participation and not through passive listening. Unfortunately, more often than not, older members would still dominate group discussions.
In more recent times I have begun to have a more nuanced understanding of why our seniors talk so much. They have nowhere else to tell their stories. Small-group discussions provide an opportunity for them to tell a bit about themselves. There is so much they have learnt in their lives, often wisdom gleaned at great cost. Where would they have the opportunity to pass on these truths? And in telling their stories, seniors find healing, revisiting the work of God in their lives, and basically saying: “I exist, and I matter”. Small-group discussions may not be the best place for sharing their stories, but they do need to share them. Society, and surely the church community, must provide places where people of all ages, but especially seniors, can tell their stories.
Frederick Buechner describes the spirituality of telling our stories better than I can, so here is a long quote from him:

But I talk about my life anyway because if, on the one hand, hardly anything could be less important, on the other hand, hardly anything could be more important. My story is important, not because it is mine, God knows, but because if I tell it anything like right, the chances are you will recognize that in many ways it is also yours. Maybe nothing is more important than that we keep track, you and I, of these stories of who we are and where we have come from and the people we have met along the way because it is precisely through these stories in all their particularity, as I have long believed and often said, that God makes himself known to each of us most powerfully and personally. If this is true it means that to lose track of our stories is to be profoundly impoverished not only humanly but also spiritually. (1)

I know this has been done before, but I hope to organise “Story Evenings” where folks gather and take turns to tell some defining stories of their lives. I am sure we will be surprised at the journeys we all have taken and maybe in knowing a bit more of each other’s journeys we will begin to really know each other as friends. I am sure we will also find, as Buechner suggests, that that will be the scars and wounds of a broken world in all our lives, and in that we know we are similar, all sons and daughters of Adam and Eve who have now been adopted into Abba’s family and who now have Jesus as our elder brother.
Mark Yaconelli reminds us:

In another time, in another setting, sitting together around a table and sharing stories was as necessary to human life as bread and water. Storytelling was our source of identity, connecting us to our passions, our daily work, the people we encountered, the land we inhabited. Sharing stories was a kind of communion, a shared meal, inviting others to be nourished by what we had lived, suffered, and overcome. Telling stories kept our core values vibrant and accessible, drew to the surface our most generous and courageous qualities. (2)

We are told that in Singapore today, 1 in 5 is 65 years old and older, and that this will rise to about I in 4 by 2030, and 1 in 3 by 2050. (3) I don’t think the church has even begun to understand the implications of these figures. For one thing, there will be many folks in the third-third of life (60 and above) who will be asking: “What is the meaning of our lives?”. They will be folks who need to remember and to tell their stories. We hope that in telling their stories they will see, or see afresh, how God appeared in their stories. Maybe some can be helped to connect their stories to God’s story. We desperately need to create platforms where people can find meaning, healing, and purpose, through their stories.
Dad passed away in 2003. I miss his stories. I miss him. I look forward to sitting with him again around another table where we will once again exchange stories.

(1) Telling Secrets, (San Francisco, CA: HarperCollins, 1991), 30.
(2) Between the Listening and the Telling, (Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf Books, 2022), 5.
(3) https://www.statista.com/statistics/713663/singapore-forecast-aging-population/