A Story of USWritten by Teresa Clark
In his child imagination he believed if he hammered on the wood hard enough it would become whatever he imagined. He wanted it to become an airplane. So he started hammering, hard.
I recently led a storytelling residency in a rural community entitled, The Story of US. The intent is for students to interview an older family member and create a performance story from something they heard.
Confident he was going to fail, an angry young man told me there was no way he was going to be able to complete any of the assignments because no adult he knew had agreed to be interviewed. I countered that he could interview himself. After all, he was a person. What was his story? Now that excited him! He worked diligently at all of the assignments throughout the week and was excited to tell his story to the class when the time came.
He told about a time he was four or five years old and there was no one around taking care of him. In protective custody of the foster care system, unseen and non-nurtured he was searching for something to do when he found a hammer and an old splintered piece of wood. In his child’s imagination he believed if he hammered on the wood hard enough it would become whatever he imagined. He wanted it to become an airplane. So he started hammering, hard. The hammer broke off a splinter of wood with such force it impaled the top of his eyeball, and then the bounce of the hammer hit him on the brow of the same eye, driving the splinter in further. Still very much alone, he now had a serious problem. There was no one nearby that was going to help him. He had to get the splinter out. He couldn’t even close his eye! So, he did what he had to do. He reached up, grabbed tightly onto the inch and a half long splinter in his eye, and pulled it out as fast as he could.
Needles to say, this young man had the complete attention of his class mates. I was standing in the back of the room when I heard two boys whispering in the chairs in front of me. Their exchange went like this:
“Who would give that kid a hammer?”
“That’s the point, no one gave him a hammer, he was all alone trying to find a good way to play. No one even cared.”
“Oh man, that’s sad. “
When the young man was done with his story he started walking back to his seat on the fringe of the room. That’s when the boys I had overheard leapt up and pulled a chair over close to them.
“Dude, you should sit here.”
It’s been said the closest distance between two hearts is a story. That distance shortened between all of those boys that day.
After class I asked the young storyteller how he had felt while he was telling his story. He told me, “I loved knowing that everyone was listening to me - it made me feel important. I think I made some new friends.”
Author Marge Kennedy says, “Everyone needs reminders of the fact of their being on this earth is important and that each life changes everything.” After all, I would add, that’s the story of US.
Every person you come across is made up of stories. Shorten the distance between your hearts. Help them know their presence on the earth makes a difference. Ask them to tell you a story. All it takes is one question: "What is a favorite memory from your childhood?" "Tell me about a time when you felt proud." "Where were you on September 11, 2001?" "If you could have anything in the world for dinner tonight, what would it be and why?" You get the idea, now go make someone's day!
A national award-winning storyteller, historian and author, she is best known for her original works and recollections of life's experiences blended with history. Teresa has presented and performed throughout the United States. Of her, it has been said, "Charming, witty, soulful, and wise, her performances are filled with a compelling sense of wonder and an irresistable zest for life." Her story work involves performance, education, production, and advocacy. From the main stage to individual consultations in living rooms across America, she delights in the excavation and sharing of family story. Most importantly, she is a wife, mother, and grandmother to her favorite playmates and best friends.
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