Storyteller shares healing tales from 9/11

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"Compassion, Generosity and Grace: Stories from 9/11” is the title of a presentation by storyteller Regina Ress. A resident of New York City’s Greenwich Village, Ress witnessed the attacks on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. She also experienced the great outpouring of caring that swept over the city in the days and months afterwards.

A storyteller by profession, Ress has woven together a collection of tales that describe what she experienced in New York City following the 9/11 tragedy.

Ress presents “Compassion, Generosity and Grace: Stories from 9/11” at 5 p.m. on Sunday (Aug. 28) at SOMOS, 108-B Civic Plaza Drive.

Recalling the days after the 9/11 attacks, Ress said: “What I saw was this beautiful outpouring of love.” She said one of the reasons she shares her stories from that time is because “we are marinating in negative imagery from all the media and that’s not the full truth about human beings, and it’s easy to go into despair because of the worldwide chaos and cruelty that we’re seeing 24/7 on whatever devices. But that’s not the whole story, and they rarely show this other side ... so these stories are very healing.”

Ress was 1 1/2 miles from the World Trade Center (WTC) on Sept. 11, 2001. She said she saw one of the planes fly over her building as it headed toward the WTC. She saw the towers burn and fall. Her first instinct was to secure her home base. She filled up all the containers she could with water. Then, she went out onto the streets, observing and helping. A few days later, she found herself telling stories to seventh- and eighth-graders in a local private school. Several of the children had parents who had died in the attacks.

Ress told them a Haitian folk tale about a girl who is in trouble. Her community comes to her rescue by literally circling around her and keeping the danger at bay. Then, the children shared stories about ways they had helped out in their community. One boy said he and his mother had gone out to the street and bagged up garbage – the sanitation trucks were occupied at ground zero and were not operating in their neighborhood. In recollecting this teaching moment, Ress referenced the television children’s show host, Mister (Fred) Rogers, who had discussed how having something helpful to do can give a child in a traumatic situation some relief.

“When you’re doing something to help others, you’re not so afraid yourself,” Ress summarized.

For the program she’ll present at SOMOS, Ress tells the same story of the Haitian girl that she told to the New York children. She also shares a story about an indigenous tribe from Costa Rica that contacted her to find out about what had happened in New York City. Ress said members of the tribe wanted to know so they could do a healing ceremony for the people of New York and the world.

The first time Ress told her 9/11 program was at the Op. Cit. bookstore in Santa Fe. Subsequently, a man invited her to tell it at his church, which she did. The participants were grateful, Ress reflected. “They told me, ‘Thank you.’ All we see on television is the violence and revenge, revenge, revenge. Or sentimentality. This was just human.”

“I’ve told it in various places and people are very moved by it,” said Ress.

For more than 40 years, Ress has performed and taught in English and Spanish in a variety of settings in the United States, Latin America and Europe. As a storyteller, she has visited schools, international festivals, prisons, parks, homeless shelters, the Lincoln Center and the White House.

Ress has been a featured teller at the Hans Christian Andersen storytelling series in New York City’s Central Park for more than two decades. She also shares stories at the American Museum of Natural History, The Brooklyn Museum and the New York Botanical Garden.

In addition to telling stories, Ress has written numerous published articles. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from Carnegie Mellon University and a master’s in theater from Villanova University. She also has a certificate in TESOL International Association (Teachers of English to Speakers of Other Languages).

Ress has performed on Broadway, off Broadway, on tours and in regional theater. She is a graduate-level teacher of storytelling for New York University’s Educational Theatre and Multilingual/ Multicultural Studies programs. She has taught English as a second language courses to New York’s adult immigrants. In 2004, she received a grant for her project, “Voices from Washington Heights: Immigrants Tell Stories About and From their Homelands.” Ress leads workshops for the New York Literacy Assistance Center and has taught many professional development classes for New York public schools. Following 9/11, under the umbrella of Mercy Corps, Ress facilitated workshops for adults to help them understand the effects of trauma on children.

Ress serves on the board of Healing Voices-Personal Stories, a film company that co-produces documentaries about domestic violence. For more than a decade, Ress was a board member of the New York Storytelling Center and the New York metro liaison to the National Storytelling Network, which awarded her an Oracle Award in leadership and service and an Oracle Award for regional excellence. Ress sits on the board of the Storytellers of New Mexico.

Ress now splits her time between New York and New Mexico. For more information, visit her website at reginaress.com.

Admission is $10 at the door, $8 for SOMOS members. For more information, contact SOMOS at (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.org.

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