The greatest story you never tell: It’s yours

Adapted from Narrative Medicine: Harnessing the Power of Storytelling through Essays, on the occasion of Passover.

“The Greatest Story Ever Told” is a phrase often used to refer to stories that have had a significant impact on humanity and continue to resonate across cultures and generations. Paul Simon’s song “Old” praises the Bible as the greatest story ever told. The Bible is indeed considered one of the greatest stories ever told, especially the story of Passover, which marks the exodus of enslaved Israelites from Egypt – and the story of Moses, chosen by God to lead them.

Overall, the Bible’s enduring appeal lies in its ability to speak to the human condition and offer timeless wisdom and inspiration to generations of readers. Its “greatest stories” have captured the imagination of readers for centuries and continue to be celebrated for their depth, complexity, and enduring relevance.

The power of the Passover story lies in its ability to weave together compelling narrative, deep symbolism, universal themes, and historical continuity. In addition, Passover’s influence extends beyond Judaism, with elements of the story also found in the traditions of Christianity and Islam. The Last Supper, a key event in Christianity, was a Passover meal.

Paul Simon originally spoke about the Bible in the context of discussing his inspiration for writing the song “The Boxer.” In interviews, Simon has mentioned that “The Boxer” was influenced by the Bible due to its timeless narratives. He has spoken about drawing inspiration from biblical themes of struggle, resilience, and redemption, which he found resonated deeply with him as a songwriter.

Many of Simon’s songs align with his broader appreciation for storytelling and the universal themes found in literature, such as love, loneliness, identity, good versus evil, death and mortality, freedom and oppression, nature versus civilization, and coming of age. In “Old,” Simon’s reference to the Bible being the greatest story ever told is tongue-in-cheek. From his perspective, the greatest story ever told – actually stories – are Simon’s.

However, I suggest that the greatest story ever told is your story – not the Bible, and certainly not Paul Simon’s. The stories you hold dear showcase your remarkable achievements and highlight your ingenuity, perseverance, and versatility. Each of you are stories in your own right, an overflowing cauldron of narratives that cut across cultures and decades, containing universal themes that resonate with everyone in similar ways as the Bible.

The Passover holiday should serve as a reminder to share these fascinating tales with your friends, colleagues, loved ones, and especially your patients. Those you attend to may derive strength and comfort from your narratives and personal struggles. I assure you that your stories will be remembered for a lifetime and never become “old.”

Arthur Lazarus is a former Doximity Fellow, a member of the editorial board of the American Association for Physician Leadership, and an adjunct professor of psychiatry at the Lewis Katz School of Medicine at Temple University in Philadelphia, PA. He is the author of Every Story Counts: Exploring Contemporary Practice Through Narrative Medicine, Medicine on Fire: A Narrative Travelogue, and Narrative Medicine: The Fifth Vital Sign.

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