Maia Toll

What if stories are soul maps to heal what is broken?

Remember the movie Erin Brockovich?

In case you never saw it, here’s the 20-second recap:

Erin Brockovich (played by Julia Roberts) is a down-on-her-luck single mom desperately searching for a job. Unfortunately what she finds instead is a car accident. She sues the doctor who hit her but the Universe is unforgiving and she loses her case.

With nowhere else to turn, she browbeats her accident attorney into hiring her as a clerk at his office. While doing the filing, Erin notices some medical records tucked into a file for a real estate deal. She gets curious, does some digging, and uncovers a huge environmental pollution cover-up by Pacific Gas and Electric Company, which she doggedly pursues—with the help of said lawyer—successfully exposing the crime and getting reparations for the victims.

I haven’t seen the movie in years so I was pretty surprised when a friend explained that she’d taken her new job because of Erin Brockovich.

Huh? I thought.

Here’s the thing my friend focused on: Erin takes a seemingly dead-end, no-respect kinda job and, with a bit of gumption, uses it as a launch pad to save the state of California. Okay, maybe half the state of California, but you get my point: dead-end job leads to a calling of super-hero proportions.

My friend was nine-to-five hesitant. Actually let’s call a spade a spade: there was no way on God’s green earth she was gonna do the nine-to-five thing. She felt like taking a regular job would keep her from stepping into her “real” work in the world. But seeing Erin Brockovich gave her a new story. She was able to over-ride the story in her head once she had a new one to take its place.

What this seemingly odd chain of events showed me was the importance of story in our lives.

My friend couldn’t comprehend a nine-to-five job being anything other than a soul-numbing drag until she was shown a story which flipped her assumptions on their little hard heads. Watching Erin Brockovich gave her the story of a different path forward.

My brain spooled back to grad school. My mother was hardly speaking to me and my father was in “fix it” mode because I was dating a woman. In the emotional chaos of that time what actually unraveled me was the realization that I now stood outside the stories. That every single fairy tale or novel where girl meets boy was no longer about me.

What if we knew stories were medicine and actively sought out the ones which could heal us? Click To Tweet

When I look back at my own life I see how adrift I felt when there were no stories to guide me: when my medical doctor said to me I can tell you’re sick. Western medicine isn’t going to have any answers but maybe Chinese medicine or Ayurveda will I didn’t look for a story of someone who had healed through non-Western means. Instead I stumbled around Manhattan, visiting homeopaths in dark basement offices and high-end acupuncturists with a year’s worth of rent hanging on the modern art-clad walls of their waiting rooms.

I felt disembodied and map-less because my old story—that medical doctors could heal everything—was no longer true but I hadn’t found or even looked for a story to take its place.

I hadn’t realized I needed a story.

Which got me thinking: what if, the next time you (or I) get stuck, we search out a better story? What if we actively and consciously look for the tale which lets us break through our preconceived notions and find an unexpected solution to our problems?


“If you believe in only facts and forget stories, your brain will live, but your heart will die.”

— Cassandra Clare


Maybe stories are soul food, nourishing us on levels we can't even comprehend. Click To Tweet

Or maybe stories let us access superpowers we don’t realize we possess.

And thank goodness, right? ‘Cause I can think of a couple of states in need of saving.

Oh, and by the way, Erin Brockovich is still out there uncovering environmental travesties. Find her at


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