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Jack Kamen was born in 1913 above his father's harness shop in Brownsville, a Yiddish-speaking section of Brooklyn. 

His parents recently immigrated from Russia. Grateful to be in America, they encouraged their children to learn American ways. 

Jack learned English, went to public schools, and even earned a college degree. He married and bought a home in the suburbs.

Jack had a family and moved to California. The kids grew up, left home, and Jack got old.

At 84, his health was failing. No one expected him to reach 85.



Rick Kamen was born in 1951 in a comfortable suburban home on Long Island.

As Jack's health was failing, Rick was working on a book about something he calls "natural behaviors." Those are things that all living things do naturally.

The behaviors might not help the individuals, but they are essential for the species.  

Examples are trees bearing fruit, plants producing flowers, male black widow spiders mating (they know it's dangerous), or humans making babies and taking care of them.

Why do we do natural behaviors? They make us happy. 

It would be cruel to prevent anything from doing it's natural behaviors. Frustration is a form of stress and can damage health. 

What about people who can't do their natural behaviors? Can we improve their health by providing opportunities? 

Rick decided to experiment on his father. His health needed a boost and modern society makes it difficult for elders to do their natural behaviors.

Elders are the storytellers in traditional societies. They're great at it, they love it, and it's essential to the group's survival. It transfers to human children the common sense that most other living things are born with.

Not only is storytelling a natural behavior for elders, it may be the only one for those with limited abilities. Without at least one natural behavior, we can't maintain happiness, and that eventually effects our health.

"My father's health should improve if I provide storytelling opportunities," Rick predicted.

So Rick telephoned his father. "Didn't you grow up speaking Yiddish?" Rick asked. "Tell me what it was like when you were young. I'll write the stories up for the grandkids."



When Rick asked for Jack's childhood stories, he bounced back like a thirsty plant after a rain.

Immediately, Jack's voice sounded ten years younger. Energy returned, and his health decline stopped. A month later, his blood tests confirmed the improvement.

For months, Jack's doctor had been urging him to accept dialysis. He always declined, even though his monthly kidney function tests kept getting worse.

The first test he took after starting storytelling showed such an improvement in kidney function that his doctor told him he couldn't have dialysis even if he wanted it.

Rick continued to telephone-interview his father at least once a week and send him the stories soon afterwards.

Jack has had several more birthdays. He's healthier now than he was in 1998.

All the family members attribute the improvement to the storytelling. That really isn't proof that storytelling is healthy, though. It would require a scientific study.

We'd like to see that happen. The first step in convincing a medical school to do such a study is presenting them with dozens of reports from people who've experienced success with it.

So, if you try storytelling for health, and it works, please contact us.

A good way to start the experiment is to get a copy of Heirloom Stories from the Harnessmaker's Son. It's impossible for elders to read a page of it without remembering their own stories.

When one of our stories triggers one of yours, write it down in the style we use throughout the book. We call it family story format. It's the way elders traditionally tell stories.

When you see your stories in written form, you know you'll be speaking to future generations. It's a powerful incentive to stay healthy and transfer more wisdom.

For examples, read these sample stories:

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Revised: October 04, 2011