Gerald Fierst, storyteller, actor, writer, and civil celebrant, will come to your group, school, or organization to speak about his work and stories. His appearances have included the International Storytelling Center, the New Jersey Reading Teachers Association, the Essex County Inns of Court, the National Havurah Conference, the National Hillel Conference, the Hong Kong Literary Festival, and the Kathleen Hurley Memorial Lecturer, International College of Celebrancy, Queens College, Melbourne, Australia.
His topics include:
- Wedding in the 21st Century
- The Power of Words: Celebrating Life Passages
- Voicing Your Story to Live Your Life
- The Visionary Educator
To check my availability and to learn more about how I can create a unique ceremony incorporating your stories, needs, and traditions, contact me to set up a no‑obligation consultation.
Breathing Your Stories
Celebrants are essentially storytellers. By creating ritual, we reconnect to the spirit of family. Whether a wedding or a funeral, a birth or a house warming, we are telling the essential stories of the life cycle.
As a storyteller, I have often had students say there are no stories in their families. Of course, they are wrong. Everyone has stories, but sometimes we ignore them because the time for telling has been diluted into the commonplace. Where once the dinner table, the kitchen, the quilting bee, the general store, and other gathering moments presented ritualized venues for our family and community sharings, our commercialized culture has diminished these connections into family entertainment and, therefore, we dismiss the importance of the stories being communicated. Stories were never just children's entertainment, but even in their simplest form, were a moment to be present together.
Story is breath. Breathing together. Too often we rush through our stories. Often literally, we talk too fast. The first rule of good storytelling is to take your time. In a family, sufficient time must be set aside to tell stories. Unfortunately, in our overstimulated culture, slowing down takes discipline. Therefore, turning off the television and sitting down to dinner together may feel like a hardship. Making a time each week to tell stories may feel like a scheduling nightmare. Making the end of the day a special storytelling moment may feel like a physical impossibility when the day doesn't have enough hours as is to accomplish everything we have to do. There are no easy answers. Partly, we must recognize and encourage the small rituals which we observe.
When someone says they have no family stories, they are jumping over the recipes that were cooked at holidays, the traditional purchase of shoes at Easter, the trips to the car wash line on Saturday morning. When we feel the need to encourage storytelling in our current household, we must give breath to the commonplace events of our lives and not discard them as insignificant. The power of personal narrative is that it leads to the recognition of the universal.
In the Jewish tradition, the teaching is that the unpronounceable name of God was written with two yads, unaspirated letters. Because Hebrew is written without the vowels, no one knows how these letters would be vocalized. Only the high priest in the temple in Jerusalem knew the secret. Once a year, he would enter the inner sanctum of the Holy of Holies and say the name of God.
So what sound did he make? If one makes an unaspirated sound, it is nothing but a breath. Therefore, the teaching goes, the name of God is the breath of humankind.
Though cultures vary in words and symbols, the essential experience of humanity remains true across the world. One of my favorite stories, Lazy Jack, tells the tale of a boy so lazy his father finally sends him out into the world with nothing but two loaves of bread. Jack is lazy, but generous and lucky. Over a lifetime, he manages to have a big house, a loving wife, lots of gold, and fun and adventure. When he dies (having tricked the angel of death) at the age of 650, the story concludes that no man could have asked for anything more, so it is a happy ending for lazy Jack. The story Lazy Jack teaches that all of us travel on the same road of life and that talent, luck, and perseverance take us to a successful journey's end; and that it is not the ending that is important, but the living and telling of the story.
While working recently at the Hong Kong International School where we created a program called Journey of Reverence, a fifth grader responded to these ideas by writing a poem,
"I wake up in the morning at around 4:00 Just to hear the birds chirp,
Which fills my mind with joyful things.
Then I slowly drift back to sleep,
With the thought of a new day ahead of me."
Everyone has stories. We just have to stop and hear the birds chirp.