Fig Tree Stories
“Once there was a great king who went riding in the countryside. By the road, day after day, he saw an old man planting fig trees. When the king’s curiosity became too much for him to hold, he approached the man demanding he explain why he was planting fig trees. “You are old, you will never see the fruits of your labor; you will never eat the figs from these trees.” Patiently, the old man responded: “I came into this world that was already full of trees bearing fruit for me to eat! I don’t plant these trees for me; I plant them for my grandchildren.”
In 2017 Renie Campbell and D’vorah Horn Greenberg began to construct Fig Tree Stories: Elder Tales, as a writing project for Mending Spirit, Art for Healing. The project is now in its 3rd year.
D’vorah and Renie conceived of this project as a collaboration that would benefit Elders living in nursing homes and high school students working on their writing. They wanted to bring a purposeful, healing connection to the Elders and to bridge the societal gap between the Elders and the youth by having the students help the Elders write an important story from their lives. They knew the Elders would have wisdom to share if they were given an opportunity, a structure and an audience.
In the first session, Renie and D’vorah shared the Fig Tree narrative and told the Elders, “You have something to tell us, you have a kernel of wisdom to impart, a lesson to share, a way of seeing things that these young people need, something only you can give to us. These seeds of wisdom are your fig trees, you plant them now and future generations will harvest the fruit. No one else can give us what you can.”
Next, Renie, D’vorah and the class met with the group of Elders to get to know each other. Each Elder was assigned two students as writing helpers. Over the course of 4 sessions, the Elders shared their stories with their student helpers through a sequence of prompts, while the students took notes. The students then worked in their class with Renie to create memoirs that reflected the voices and wisdom of their Elder partners. The students processed their experiences working with their Elder partners in class discussion with Renie and through journal writing. They brought their rough drafts back to the Elders to make sure they accurately reflected the stories the Elders were telling. Throughout this process, there was a focus on creating an atmosphere of safety and trust while the students and the Elders forged caring relationships.
The final session was a festive gathering--each student pair read their partner’s story aloud to the room full of Elders, nursing home and school staff, and other community members. The students also created an art project for each Elder that expressed the essence of the message in their memoir and surprised their Elder friends with the gift, as well as a booklet with all of the stories. There were hugs and tears all around.
The fruits of the collaboration are the stories, full of joy, pain and wisdom.