By Joe C
Songwriter, broadcaster and author of
Beyond Belief: Agnostic Musings for 12 Step Life
Storytelling, vulnerable and sincere storytelling, unites us. More than just an ageless form of teaching and entertaining, storytelling is healing and nurturing for both the teller and the audience. Books, songs, movies, podcasts, chat-rooms, YouTube videos and meetings are places where gifts given are also gifts received. Each Breath is such a gift. Thomas may be new to authorship but he’s a master storyteller.
To honor storytelling, let’s borrow from a storytelling team — known as miners of story-gold to those who value storytelling — Katherine Ketcham and Ernie Kurtz, who gave us The Spirituality of Imperfection (1992) and Experiencing Spirituality (2014). Experiencing Spirituality reminds us,
The process of storytelling conveys certain experiences, even if these experiences are not talked about directly. These experiences, in fact, cannot be transmitted directly, by talking about them, but rather are conveyed only by means of “story,” which invites identification. … Bare words fail because the primary responsibility of words is to convey ideas. Words tell. Conveying experience requires more… genuine sharing involves not merely communication but a kind of communion.1
How to commune with Each Breath? It’s written chronologically and it can be enjoyed that way. Or, you can treat it like a collection of stories. Let’s say you want to understand the author’s biases; you could start at Chapter One and explore an army-brat’s beginning, born into the drama of World War II. Keep reading about formative southern gothic Mississippi family pride, sacrifice and dysfunction. On the other hand, you could fast-forward to authors and thinkers who impacted Thomas in Chapter 22.
Learn about Holotropic Breathing Experiences (Chapter 21) and ponder if that’s where the book title came from. Or, jump into the action: active duty in the Vietnam War starts in Chapter 4 on route to 629th S & S Company; the first drink in high school is in Chapter 2; open to Chapter 9 and share Thomas’ first AA meeting experience on West 86th in New York City. If “Almost Dying Getting Laid” is too intriguing to pass by, start with Chapter 5. This is a gift that Thomas shares from his experience. Over hours, we get to explore years of the life of Thomas. We go from war abroad to domestic activism, romance and divorce, peacekeeping in Sri Lanka, 1970s AA recovery and 21st century service work that aided the first international gathering for agnostics, atheists and freethinkers in Alcoholics Anonymous in Santa Monica (2014).
Each Breath is mixed mediums. Stories of life are mixed with a lifetime of poetry. This book might only be possible in this era of publishing on demand. I referred to Thomas as a novice author but a seasoned storyteller and poet. Did you know that there are 85 new books being published every hour in America? I learned this from Forbes Magazine. That’s hundreds of thousands of new titles every year. In total, planet Earth is home to 130,000,000 book titles. Old-school publishers are complaining about the expansion of titles; readers are not. Maybe a New York City acquisition editor of yesteryear wouldn’t or couldn’t take a chance on a rookie author but publishing houses aren’t the gate-keepers and tastemakers that they once were. Storytellers control more of our destiny and we the readers decide what’s compelling.
Thomas is not the hero of his autobiography; he’s celebrating the people, places, awe and terror that life has gifted him. Each Breath is unabashed and authentic. Thomas lived in interesting times — be that a curse or a blessing. I am so pleased that these gripping stories are now recorded and preserved. Over the years, I have come to know Thomas. This book leaves me loving him more.
Maybe, as you’re reading, you’ll say to yourself, “I could do this; I should write my story.” Maybe you’re right and I know Thomas would laugh with pleasure that he had a small role in inspiring your dream. That’s the thing with storytelling; you’ll draw something out of this book and maybe, this book will draw something out of you.
Now, let the adventure of Each Breath begin…
1Ernest Kurtz, Ketcham, Katherine, Experiencing Spirituality: Finding Meaning Through Storytelling (New York: Random House, 2014) pp. 30-21.
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