Tell a Story, Change the World

Carmen Murasan changes hearts, and perhaps someday the world, by telling stories. She changed my heart as she spun stories about Romanian history, lacing them strongly with perspective and personal insight.

I met Carmen at the conclusion of a Vantage river boat tour of the Rhine and Danube that ended in Romania. She lives in Brasov and served as our local guide during the time we spent in Transylvania. Our local guide in Bucharest had painted a slightly cynical picture of Romania’s past and present, presumably also its future. She left me wondering why she’d chosen to return after living elsewhere for years.

Carmen was the perfect antidote. She’s passionate about life and passionate about Romania. She had our Orange Bus group howling like werewolves at every opportunity, baffling the Blue Bus group the first few times they heard us, and she punctuated her points with hugs and kisses for everyone at frequent intervals. She added brilliance and focus to the seductive beauty of Transylvania. How could we not listen to her stories and absorb her passion?

For example, consider the way she developed the story of Count Dracula, also known as Vlad, the Impaler. “It’s not fair to judge Vlad in light of twenty-first century values. You must understand conditions back then and the way he was brought up....” By the time she was finished, I got it. Not that she turned him into a saint, but I did understand his logic and the protective effect it had on Transylvania’s history.

During the course of the cruise from Bonn to Bucharest, we stopped in so many cities, towns and villages that they’ve begun to blur together, but especially as we cruised down the Danube from Vienna into former Eastern Bloc countries of Slovenia, Croatia, Bosnia, Serbia, Bulgaria and Romania, our local guides’ stories became intense. We heard tales of millennia of invasions and the violence of World War II. Accounts of more recent Balkan conflict horrified us. We heard personal accounts of genocide and ever-present anxiety over possible attempts to form a new Ottoman Empire.

My hair stood on end as our Croatian guide told of suddenly being sent alone to a children’s camp in Germany for what turned out to be six months while most of his extended family was shot in a mass execution of Croatians. Fortunately his parents survived. Every guide after Vienna told a personal story of life under Communist rule and later liberation. Each story left an imprint on my heart.

Not all stories were verbal. Buildings stood as silent testimony. Great progress has been made toward restoring the damage caused by bombing and decades of neglect, but most notably in Bucharest, far too many stand like rotting teeth in a brilliant smile, constant reminders of the past and work yet to be done. How starkly eastern Europe contrasts with western cities rebuilt by the Marshall Plan. Taken together, the two halves of Europe bear testimony to the ability of the United States to implement the Marshall Plan to rebuild our former enemies while thriving ourselves.

Story is the operating system our human brains use to make sense of life and the world we live in. We’re constantly creating and editing stories to incorporate new information and experience. I’ve encountered a river full of small stories that beg to be woven into a larger one. My former view of the world has burst open like the shell of a growing lobster. A new view will take time to become clearn and solid. This blog post is one small step in achieving that end.

I'm endlessly grateful that Carmen Murasan’s stories were the last ones I heard. Her optimism and joy for life form a pillar for anchoring and focusing others.

Carmen shares her stories with legions of visitors to Romania from around the world, and I feel certain she changes each of their hearts. Hopefully as we each share our take on her stories, and I share mine on others I’ve heard, the ripple effect will kick in, and the world will become a better place. Perhaps, just maybe, one day she’ll begin writing those stories and touch even more people.

How has hearing new stories from others changed your heart, life and stories? Write about it! 


Herm said...

Everyday is an adventure somebody should write about. I'm wet with wonder by the splash you've made from this experience. Other's experiences I wouldn't want to be mine, but hearing their stories makes me look at mine with new perspective. Thanks for sharing here.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Well put Herm. The stories I heard drenched me, as you put it. Each time we hear these stories we have a choice to make: shudder and try to forget, or find a way to make them matter, in at least a small way. Then there's the choice of feeding fear or finding forgiveness and unity. Hmm. That may be another post!

Amy said...

This is a wonderful post, Sharon, and I am so glad you had such an amazing trip. Traveling does make us see the world and ourselves in new ways. And yes, stories are how we try and make sense of it all.

Sharon Lippincott said...

Thanks Amy. My husband and I have been fortunate in being able to travel widely over the last many years. At some point, the novelty wears off, and in many respects staying home and watching videos would be easier seems tempting. But ... hearing the stories of people and finding out how much we have in common ... that keeps making it worth the investment of time, money and energy. Taking that to the next level, insight is good. Shared insight is far more rewarding.

Maya Lazarus said...

Thanks for sharing your travel experience and the stories, sad and wonderful, told by your guides. Through traveling we get to remember that we are but a small part of the universe.

Sharon Lippincott said...

You are welcome Maya. Well put!