Monday, August 16, 2010

Life Stories

This past week, I traveled to Michigan for a family get-together. There were 15 of us, ranging in age from 9 to 85, and we are a family that likes to play games of various kinds. Some years ago, a friend gave me the board game, "Life Stories," which she had ordered from the Fellowship of Reconciliation bookstore. I have used this game in a number of social settings, and I've always learned something.

As my brother says, "Life Stories" is not so much a game as an 'encounter group.' Players move tokens around a board and draw cards that ask players to talk briefly about their own life experiences. On several occasions, I have brought this game along when I've done child care, just to see if children would be interested in it, and in every case, they have been -- even kids as young as 5 or 6 years old. It's a non-competitive oral history exercise that draws people together. In my experience, it even works well with just two people playing.

Here are some sample "Life Stories" cards:

Tell about one of the proudest moments in your life.

What is an activity that makes you feel ALIVE?

Tell about something you really like about where you live.

Describe one of the best decisions you made in your life.

What is a habit you picked up from a relative?

Tell about an aroma you recall from childhood.
I think the questions on the cards are phrased very well, and, as expected, they can lead to tangential discussions where others share their memories about the subject at hand.

When my family played the game this week, not all the adults wanted to play, but the children did, so even the adults who weren't "playing" stayed close by and sometimes chimed in. Even when we think we know our own family members pretty well, the game can teach us things about each other.

When my mom drew the card about an aroma from childhood, she recalled that when she was young and their family drove to Maine (from New Jersey) for vacation, they would sniff the air as they crossed into Maine and smell the sweet-fern, which, she said, always seemed to occur right at the border. She said she and her brothers would call out, "sweet-fern!" Vacation had begun.

I was thinking about the song, "From a Distance," which suggests that, as people in conflict around the world, we could learn to respect and cherish each other better if we took the long view. "From a distance, you look like my friend." For me, it begins from the other direction -- moving in, not out. The more closely I look at a person's life, the more I can understand where they are coming from. That's the premise of the "Life Stories" game, and it works for me!

The game can be ordered at this site. Check it out!

photo of sweet-fern by Dennis Curtin

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