Yesterday I received the sad news that a dear woman I know has passed away. That woman was Damn, whom I met on my trip to Haiti three years ago. I actually stayed in her home on my visit, getting to know her and her husband, her daughters, sons-in-law, grandchildren and even nephews. She was strong, yet humble in spirit, humorous and full of life, and boy, could she tell a story!
Not long after I’d arrived I heard through the grapevine that she was a storyteller, and I asked Kent, the man leading my trip who had lived with the family for many months when he first arrived in Haiti, if she would tell us some stories. I saw him ask her in Haitian Creole (she didn’t speak English), and then her eyes flashed and she smiled and nodded. I could hardly wait for evening when the storytelling experience would begin!
Danm did not disappoint. Even with the words in Haitian Creole, her storytelling was unforgettable. As we sat in the still, dark Haitian night, I hung on her every word as she waved her arms, shook her backside, danced in circles and playfully swatted at her sons-in-law, making them part of the story. Her children and grandchildren requested their favorite stories, one after another, and sang along as she told with an animated style that held me spellbound. Kent apologized saying, “She’s talking too fast for me to translate,” but it didn’t matter. She was that engaging.
As I watched her and saw the joy she was bringing to all those assembled, I remember thinking to myself, “That’s the kind of grandma I want to be.” The kind that can gather her whole family around to share in a magical experience that draws everyone closer in love, laughter and gratitude. No TVs, cell phones or electricity required.
As storytellers, we are called to pay tribute to the voices that came before. The ones who paved the way. Danm is one of those voices. She may never have performed before a large crowd and her name may not have been known outside her own familial circle, but to me she stands as a shining example of all that storytelling can and should be. A way to bring people together and to make them marvel at life and the relationships that make it meaningful. Her voice will be greatly missed, and I am saddened to know that I will never have another chance to sit spellbound before her in the dark Haitian night.
But perhaps her children and grandchildren will take up her mantle. Perhaps they will tell those same stories that they once loved to hear. And I pray that they do. For if they do, her voice will not be lost, but will live on.
Mesi (thank you) Danm, for leaving a legacy through stories.