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Telling stories of interfaith understanding
by Rob Brill, Times Union, Albany, NY.
April 29, 2016.
Born in Bridgeport, Conn., she grew up in Fairfield and graduated from Tufts University where she majored in psychology and French. She has a master's degree in computer science from Union College and was a software engineer for 30 years. She and her husband, Jerry, live in Clifton Park. Their son, Mark, is 31 and works in the family business GFD Patents. She is a storyteller who has recorded four CDs, a producer of storytelling events with her producing partner Alden "Joe" Doolittle and a webmaster.
What made you a storyteller?
About 20 years ago, I was taking my son to enrichment activities. Some of them were storytelling at the State Museum. I found myself repeating these stories when I was among a group of children.
I had an epiphany at Camp Chingachgook where I was chaperone for my son's fourth-grade overnight trip. At lunch, we were informed that each cabin could perform after dinner. I told the girls in my cabin, "I know an Iroquois story about why Bear has a stubby tail. Bear brags to each animal he meets in the forest about how his tail is better than theirs. Each of you can choose which animal you want to be and just talk to me, as Bear."
When it was our turn, we went to the front of the room, with the girls sitting in a line. I started, just the same way as the storyteller I had heard: "Long, long ago (using the sweeping hand gesture to indicate long, long ago), when animals could still speak, Bear had a great big long fluffy tail. It was so long that it could go from me to you (pointing to a fourth-grader about 20 feet away.)" I was amazed.
In that room with almost 150 people, it was completely quiet; the story connected all of us. It was magical. I knew then that I had to learn about storytelling. I had no idea what I would do with storytelling, especially since I had spent the previous 24 years as a computer programmer. Nonetheless, I was absolutely certain that if I didn't pursue storytelling that I would regret it the rest of my life.
Kate's story about of 1st Lt. Mohsin Naqvi is in the book "Stories We Tell: Tales from the Story Circle of the Capital District."
Click here to find out more about this award winning book.
How did you get involved in the Interfaith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area?
I began attending meetings of the Story Circle of the Capital District, where storytellers practice crafting stories, usually for performance. There I met Gert Johnson who urged me to come to the Interfaith Story Circle of the Tri-City Area, where people casually share stories from their faith traditions, discovering how much they have in common with each other. I am now the volunteer webmaster for each group:
Every month, the Interfaith Story Circle meets in a different house of worship. Often someone from the congregation gives a tour before the story sharing starts. On May 11, the program will be "Love your fellow as you would love yourself" at Congregation Beth Israel in Schenectady. The tour is at 6:30 p.m. and the story sharing from 7 to 9 p.m.
Any plans for your next CD?
My fifth CD will be called "Learning About Muslims." Two years ago a study group of the
Academy for Lifelong Learning in Saratoga Springs was reading "And The Mountains Echoed," the third book by Khaled Hossein, who wrote "The Kite Runner." I was asked to tell them some Muslim stories. I knew a number of Muslim folk tales, which I had heard at
Interfaith Story Circle meetings. I had also written a few stories about meeting Muslims at those meetings and learning about their faith.
In addition, I had researched and created a story about of 1st Lt. Mohsin Naqvi, a Muslim American soldier who died in Afghanistan.
(Click here to watch me tell my story about 1st Lt. Mohsin Naqvi.)
After I told the stories in Saratoga, many listeners came up to me and said, "You should tell these stories again so more people can hear the real stories about Muslims." So I've been polishing them and gathering more.
However, I didn't have an ending story, and I was stalled in that project.
Is the project still stalled?
Earlier this month, as I was getting ready to attend the New England Storytelling Conference in Amherst, Mass.,
I thought about participating in their story slam (competition). The topic was "Where am I from?"
I'd recently had my DNA analyzed as a participant in the Genographic Project by National Geographic to better understand my genetic roots. I realized I could present my DNA results in an artistic fashion for the story slam. The DNA results showed my ancestors were not only what I knew, Irish, Scottish and German. Starting at the beginning, my ancestors were from Africa.
They then went to Asia where Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran are. So those distant relatives would have been Muslim. Then my ancestors went to Eastern Europe. My DNA revealed that some of those ancestors were Jewish. Only later did my ancestors go to the areas I knew about. There they were Christians. So I have relatives from four continents and three religious traditions.
Through my experiences at the Interfaith Story Circle, I had come to admire greatly Muslims. Now I know I have distant Muslim relatives. I didn't win the story slam. But the story will be the final one on my new CD.
ó Rob Brill
Below is the recently created ending story for my CD.
Where Am I From
If you had asked me that a year ago, I would have said, ďIím from southern CT and my ancestors were Christians from Ireland, Scotland and Germany.Ē
However, since then, Iíve had my DNA analyzed by the
Genographic Project, a project of National Geographic. And now I know a lot more. Here are the highlights.
National Geographic told me: about 150,000 years ago, my people, like most people, started out in East Africa.
150,000 years ago - that was just too big of a number for me to comprehend. So I decided to make it smaller by dividing it into generations, with four to five generations per century.
So, 6,500 generations ago, my people were in East Africa. Thatís still a pretty big number. I wondered how big a piece of paper Iíd need for a family tree with 6,500 generations. If I used only 1Ē per generation, my family tree would be as long as two football fields, and who knows how wide. 150,000 years or 6,500 generations, thatís a really, really long time ago.
My people stayed in East Africa for 4,000 generations Ė more than the first football field of my family tree. So I might be distantly related to Jackie Robinson or Ella Fitzgerald or my friend Fay.
After those 4,000 generations in East Africa, my people immigrated to the Middle East, west Asia, where the countries Saudi Arabia, Iraq and Iran now are. There they stayed for 1,200 generations. While my people left before Islam was created, some of my ancestorsí decendents undoubtedly stayed and most likely became Muslims. So I might be distantly related to Mohammed the Prophet or Malala (the teen from Pakistan who received the Nobel Peace Prize) or my friend Mussarat.
After those 1,200 generations in the Middle East, my people immigrated to Eastern Europe. National Geographic told me: around half of all Jews from that area trace their lineage back to one of four women. My DNA shows that I am descended from three of those four women. So I might be distantly related to Albert Einstein or George Gershwin or my friend Carl.
After 700 generations in Eastern Europe, around 0 AD, the beginning of the current era, my people immigrated to Western Europe, to the places I knew about Ė Germany, Ireland and Scotland. There they stayed for 400 generations. I know some of these ancestors, at least toward the end of that period, were Catholic and Presbyterian and Lutheran.
Finally, a mere hundred and fifty years ago, my people immigrated to America where weíve been for 6 generations.
Where am I from?
My ancestors came from four continents: Africa, Asia, Europe and North America. MY family tree has Christians and Jews and Muslims on it.
I found that absolutely astonishing - My family tree has Christians and Jews and Muslims on it.
It was so astonishing that I initially didnít tell anyone about it Ė not even my husband. I needed time to absorb these revelations. Since I started learning about storytelling 20 years ago, Iíve been drawn to Jewish stories. I have a shelf of books of Jewish folk lore. Iíve rarely told any, since I didnít feel they were my stories to tell. Now Iíve started to reread those books.
Through my experiences at the local Interfaith Story Circle, I have come to meet some wonderful Muslims. It gives me great comfort knowing that millions of people around the world pray five times a day and that we share The Golden Rule.
Iíve continued to think a lot about this, and Iíve come to two conclusions.
My first conclusion is: I donít think my lineage is that unusual. I bet that if you had your DNA analyzed, youíd also discover that your ancestors came from several continents and several religious traditions. After all, YOUR family tree is also two football fields long, filled with 6,500 generations of people.
Second, I have come to believe that: I am the world. You are the world. We are the world.