Almost everyone has been moved by a story, photo or song. For many of us, one book, poem, film, photograph, or piece of music has changed the whole course of our lives.

Here are some stories that changed other peoples’ lives:

Charles Dickens – Rev. Frances Deverell

DickensWhen I was ten I read Charles Dickens:  Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, and David Copperfield. When I look back now, I realize that these books contributed profoundly to my sense of social conscience and my compassion for the poor and how society treats them.  I understood even then that the problems were systemic and real change would only happen when the system was changed.  I also understood our first principle – that every person, no matter how poor, had feelings, worth and dignity.

Frances Deverell is a retired Unitarian Universalist Minister

She Sang to Him of Heaven by I.F. Nichols – J. Marsh

This is the poem I grew up with – among many.  My mother was from England and loved reading poetry and singing the old songs to me. This poem is very sad, but uplifting in that if you have hope, it will see you through.

Copyright JD Cottier Copyright©JD Cottier

I think the old adage …” believe in the kindness of strangers” is as relevant today as then.  I am sure the poet must have experienced some tragedy in his or her life to have been able to write with such depth.

I tear up every time I read this, so it’s not every day that this book comes off the shelf.

Editor’s note:  This poem has been called various names since it was first written sometime in the 1800s, including She Sang to Him of Heaven, Richard’s Prayer, and Tommy’s Prayer.  J. Marsh’s mother read this poem from a 1901 book called The New Century Speaker.  “She Sang to Him of Heaven” is in the chapter called Selections for the Children.

The oldest reference to this poem we could find is from 1887; it was called Richard’s Prayer.  Here is a link to that version, which, except for the title and the name of the boy, appears to be identical to the version in the New Century Speaker.

The author may have been I. F. Nichols or John Nicholls.

The original version of the New Century Speaker is for sale and may be found here:

The Emotional World of Farm Animals – JD Cottier

I saw The Emotional World of Farm Animals out of curiosity. It was listed as “a delightful” movie for all ages. Since I am a life-long animal lover and I always enjoy animal movies and documentaries ( except the gruesome ones of course), I got a copy and settled down to watch.  I had no idea this film would change my life.

There is a section in the documentary about children who raise animals for their 4-H project and the impact on them of then having to surrender their beloved animal to the slaughterhouse.emotionalanimals

I have seen lots of gruesome and shocking footage in the news and elsewhere on how we treat farm animals.  Horrible, horrible images. But it wasn’t a gruesome image that I found so gut-wrenching in this documentary; it was the story about Ferdinand the bull and his young owner who sent him to his death that I will never forget.

I was not a vegetarian when I saw The Emotional World of Farm Animals, but I haven’t eaten meat since.

Here is a link to that documentary:

The Snow Goose, by Paul Gallico – Kaye Atkinson

Although I don’t remember an actual “aha” moment while reading this book, “The Snow Goose”, by Paul Gallico, is a book that I loved as a child and has always stayed in my heart. It tells the story of a man with physical disabilities and the people who come in contact with him. The story tells how the man contributes heroically to save others, and how the people he meets come to look beyond his physical form to see the beauty within. When I re-read this book as an adult, I realized that this book was formative for me and no doubt laid the foundation of my career, spent working for/with people with disabilities.

Kaye lives in Vancouver, British Columbia

Narcissus and Goldmund by Hermann Hesse – Denis Palmer

NarcissusGoldmundWhen I was 24 and not quite finished university but very fed up, I took a year off , and like many others in the 60’s and 70’s, went to Europe.   I travelled alone, by thumb. In my youth I had never felt very confident, and thought that I needed time and experience…   I guess to find out who I was, what I thought when away from school, friends, family.    I needed to leave my comfort zone.

Travelling alone in foreign lands, hitch-hiking, can get quite lonely, and boring too if one is not able to make their own entertainment a good part of the time.   I took a sketch book, pencils, and a couple of books.

I wasn’t much of a reader then, but I learned quickly to appreciate the companionship of  a good story.   I read Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn, James Fenimore Cooper, stories of Michelangelo and Vincent Van Gogh.   But the book I most remember was Narciss and Goldmund, by Herman Hesse.   This was a story of two friends in Europe during the middle ages, each choosing different paths to learn about life.   One chose the life of a monk in a monastery, surrounded by the writing and wisdom of many ages.   The other, the life of a vagabond, wandering through medieval Europe, absorbing any experience that crossed his path.   I read a lot of Herman Hesse after that, but Narciss and Goldmund was the book that remained with me for a long time.

For 8 years after that, off and on, I followed a somewhat similar path, and I loved it.   I still feel that those years were my real education.

Denis Palmer is a 64-year-old artist, teacher, and the author of Homage to a Rural Life.  He draws, paints, sketches, and has taught these disciplines part-time.

Want to share your story? Send us a paragraph or two telling us what changed you, why, and how. You can email us at We need a valid email to contact you, but we won’t share it with anyone.

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2 Responses

  1. G. Miack

    Thanks for the recommendation of the Snow Goose
    I just finished it (took less than an hour) and I was very moved.
    What a great story!

  2. Lapsed Bookworm

    Thanks for this thoughtful piece. I love Mary Oliver and reading this made me dig out her poems for another read. Lovely! I think I need to pay a long overdue visit to the library.


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