I have a five year old friend who started Kindergarten last week. As part of the “getting to know you” activities, she shared with her new class that she had a pet squirrel at home. She described the squirrel with such enthusiasm and in such detail that her teacher decided to check with mom to see if perhaps they had indeed tamed a squirrel! Mom responded that it would be in the teacher’s best interests to confirm the veracity of any “larger than life” stories she might hear this year with her; my five year old friend has what some might call a “vivid imagination.” As the youngest of 5, that imagination and creativity has been nurtured and encouraged, as well it should. The story made me smile and it brought back wonderful memories of my own little storyteller.
When my friend shared the tale of the pet squirrel with me, I recalled that I had had the exact same conversation with my youngest child’s Kindergarten teacher. In fact, I am pretty sure I had it with most of her early elementary school teachers, although these flights of imagination began long before she started elementary school. When she was 2, she would begin her tales with “Once upon at time, there were two wittle dirls…” For those who don’t speak toddler, that would be “little girls’ because the adventures always starred two little girls suprisingly similar to the two that lived in our house. When she was a little older, her stories often included her alter ego “Fireball” who was a boy and something of a super hero. Fireball had many adventures and always conquered the bad guys in the end. Sometimes, when she arrived downstairs in a certain outfit, we knew that my daughter had temporarily left the building and Fireball had taken her place. Eventually, Fireball outgrew his special super hero clothes and we had to rely on our imagination to conjur his presence.
Fast forward 10 or 12 years and “Fireball” has become a lovely young woman who is still a gifted teller of stories. Whether on a stage or on the page, her creativity and imagination continues to delight her unabashedly biased mother. She paints pictures with words and makes me laugh with her zany way of looking at the world. I have no idea what God’s plans are for her in terms of a vocation, but I have no doubt that it will somehow have something to do with telling good stories and I feel quite certain that she will be successful. The world needs more good storytellers.
We love stories. Books, movies, plays…even the commercials to which we only give cursory attention…people universally love to hear a good story. Stories engage us at our most creative and imaginative level. We picture ourselves in the role of the hero and we conquer our greatest fears and insecurities as we lose ourselves in the struggle to defeat the forces of evil. The power of a good story is the power to influence and change minds and hearts. It is why I love books and it is why I love theatre.
I am reading a book right now called “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” by Donald Miller. Mr. Miller is best known for his best-selling book “Blue Like Jazz,” one of my all-time favorites. In this book I am reading now, he talks about the power of a good story as he recounts the process of turning his book “Blue Like Jazz”- a memoir of his own life- into a movie. In the process, he explores what makes a story a good story. Along the way, he decides that a good story is about a “character that wants something and is willing to overcome obstacles to get it.” He then goes on to discover that his real life isn’t really telling a very good story and sets out to change that. I haven’t finished the book yet; I’ll let you know if he succeeds. I saw on his website that he has a new book coming out this week called “Storylines,” so I bet he does. 🙂
Anyway (and yes, I know I am rambling a bit here) I have been thinking more about stories and what makes a good story and whether my life is telling a good story. If I am the main character in my story, what is it that I want and, perhaps more importantly, am I willing to overcome obstacles to get it? And, as a follower of Jesus, whose life is arguably the greatest story every told, how does His story impact my life’s story?
I think I will leave us there for today because this is getting long and I have a meeting to attend tonight. We will let this marinate a little longer and see what comes of it.
What do you think of this definition of a good story? What kind of story is your life telling?
And yes, my dear friend, I do think your pet squirrel story would make a great blog!