Facts are essential for scientific understanding. Stories are critical for wisdom, understanding the arc and meaning of our lives. Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen, author of two wonderful books about stories, describes how some stories can diminish us and our view of ourselves. Others give us strength and hope. Stories can reveal deep meaning in our ordinary lives and relationships. How can we change a story that is not serving us well?
Dr. Remen relates how her own story changed after a diagnosis of Crohn’s disease. Instead of being an invalid destined for an early death, she became a race car driver with her mother’s help. She looks back now on a life story radically different from the severely restricted life the doctors said would be hers at the age of fifteen. As it turns out, you can't know your own story until you have lived it.
As Dr. Remen notes, sometimes a blessing doesn’t look like one when it arrives. It may instead look like an obstacle, a challenge or a disappointment. Only in hindsight can we see how it may have contributed to our resilience or our coping ability. We may also have an impact on someone else's story without even realizing it. Dr. Remen believes we have all blessed many more people than we realize.
When a serious medical problem arises, we may need more patience than we expect to be able to get to the bottom of it. But with patience, it will be revealed. We also hear from Dr. Remen about her work with Commonweal Cancer Help Program and the role of stories in healing, even when the condition cannot be cured.
Dr. Rachel Naomi Remen is Founder and Founding Director of The Remen Institute for the Study of Health and Illness (RISHI) at Wright State University Boonshoft School of Medicine in Dayton, Ohio.
Dr. Remen is also Professor of Family Medicine at the Boonshoft School of Medicine and Clinical Professor of Family Medicine at UCSF School of Medicine in San Francisco, California.
Dr. Remen’s best-selling books of stories, Kitchen Table Wisdom: Stories that Heal and My Grandfather's Blessings: Stories of Strength, Refuge and Belonging have been translated into 23 languages and have sold over a million copies. Since 1991, her course for medical students, The Healer's Art, has been taught in more than a hundred medical schools and completed by more than 21,000 medical students both here and abroad.