The Power of Story

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They hadn't met but a visit to campus by StoryCorps brought UW Tacoma faculty member Abby Murray and UW student Lisa Boeger together.

Abby Murray knew what she was going to say. “I’m going to go and I’m going to introduce myself and chat with her a little and I’m going to really try and convince her to think of someone else, someone who knows her better.”

Murray, a lecturer at UW Tacoma, had agreed to meet Lisa Boeger over coffee. Until that point the two had only spoken over the phone. Boeger had seen a calendar listing on UW Tacoma’s website for StoryCorps and called Murray for more information.

StoryCorps started in 2003 with a “mission to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.” The organization travels across the United States collecting recorded interviews with different people. Those interviews are housed at the Library of Congress; some are also featured on NPRFrom left to right: Lisa Boeger and Abby Murray during their StoryCorps recording.

Murray learned StoryCorps was making a stop at UW in Seattle and worked with her colleagues up north to secure a visit to Tacoma. “I’m always looking to connect people on a very real level and StoryCorps is such a good way to do that,” said Murray.

StoryCorps interviews are closer to a heartfelt conversation than a standard Q & A. Participants are often interviewed by someone they know and what follows is a warm, personal discussion between friends. Boeger, a transplant from the Midwest, didn’t have anyone to help tell her story. “Her husband had been deployed a few days before and she felt there was no one else,” said Murray.

StoryCorps has different programs to highlight specific ideas and/or topics. One of these—the Military Voices Initiative—provides veterans, service members, and military families a platform to talk about their experiences. The organization visited UW Tacoma to collect stories for this initiative.

Murray, a self-described pacifist, is a professional poet. She has a shock of spiked, white hair and tattoos covering both arms. Boeger is a nurse practitioner and is currently working on her Doctor of Nursing Practice at UW. She’s quiet but not shy and describes herself as “being attracted to parts of life that aren’t considered traditionally beautiful.”

The pair met for coffee and the meeting didn’t go as Murray anticipated. “We talked for almost three hours,” she said. The conversation bounced around but settled on the military. Murray’s husband Tom, is the aide-de-camp to Lieutenant General Stephen Lanza, the highest-ranking military officer at Joint Base Lewis-McChord. Boeger served five years in the Army and was deployed to Iraq during the war.

By the end of the meeting Murray had agreed to interview Boeger for StoryCorps. Something had clicked between the two of them, something profound enough to allow Boeger to share a story with a person she hadn’t known only a few hours before.   

A Memory

In 2006, a then 25-year-old Lisa Boeger enlisted in the Army and was assigned to the military police. “I really wanted to do the most hardcore thing I could, and at that time being an MP was as close to combat that a female could get,” she said.

Boeger says she enjoys the “extremes of being human.” She’s drawn to a challenge and loves pushing herself physically. An athlete, she’s run as much as fifty miles in a day. Joining the Army allowed Boeger to test herself in new and different ways.

An experience in Iraq caused Boeger to doubt herself and her abilities. The Forward Operating Base she operated out of was attacked on a regular basis.   During one such attack a mortar round exploded about thirty feet from her position.  “I just saw this shrapnel; I saw it hit my friend,” said Boeger.

Boeger lost consciousness during the barrage. “We were continuing to be rocketed and mortared and I was unconscious on the ground,” she said. “My lieutenant had to come get me and shock me back into reality.”

She didn’t know it at the time, but Boeger suffered from something called collapsed immobility. Most people are familiar with the fear responses of “fight or flight.” Collapsed immobility is another type of fear response and happens with the person feels they are in an inescapable situation. 

"Things are starting to go now, so it was really nice to document my experience in this way so I'll always have my memories and stories of it,” Lisa Boeger

Collapsed immobility is thought to be a protective mechanism, one whose origins are found in the older parts of the human brain. Boeger has spent time researching what happened to her and puts it this way. “Animals will sometimes freeze when they think they’re imminently going to die and that stops the instinct of another animal to attack.”

A decade has passed since that moment but the memory lingers. “I feel a lot of guilt and shame,” said Boeger. “I basically put his [the lieutenant’s] life at risk because he had to come get me.”  

Boeger has found ways to help her cope. One of the more helpful strategies has been to talk about her experience. “I try to tell the story to show that if you have this response that it’s not anything you can control,” she said.

The reaction to Boeger’s story has been overwhelmingly positive. “My comrades never once shamed me, they were extremely supportive and now, more than ever, our country needs to hear that people are good and will be there to help you,” she said.

Being Heard

Murray and Boeger sat next to each other in a dimly lit room inside the Cherry Parkes Building. On the table in front of them were wires, microphones, and other recording equipment. A member of the StoryCorps crew took a sound check, adjusted a few dials until he found just the right volume. He wanted to make sure the story could be heard. Murray runs a veterans writing workshop that Boeger has expressed interest in joining. Photo courtesy: StoryCorps

“It was a beautiful experience, they made me feel very comfortable,” said Boeger. The Army veteran is happy that this piece of her history has been captured and can be shared. She’s now trying to focus on the future, not the past. Boeger graduates this March and wants to go into practice for herself while also pursuing a goal of developing hospice programs in low and middle-income countries.

As for Murray, she’s happy to have been part of a collaborative project that allows people to tell their story.  She’s also grateful for the opportunity to meet Lisa Boeger.  “I really like her because she challenges herself,” said Murray.  “I want to stay in touch with her, I want to hear how her life goes.”   

Section: 
Written by: 
Eric Wilson-Edge / November 8, 2016
Media contact: 

John Burkhardt, UW Tacoma Communications, 253-692-4536 or johnbjr@uw.edu