THE MAGIC OF STORYTELLING

As far back as I can remember, storytelling has been a special part of our children’s lives.  At night, the kids would huddle around me as I played music in the background and narrated stories that came to mind as I listened to the mood of the music.  None of us knew where we would go – we only knew every turn was an adventure.  Sometimes we’d laugh, other times they’d clutch their pillows in anticipation – but every time, we’d make memories in real life and imaginary worlds at once.

The magic of story was something Mitchell held close to his heart.  One day, probably soon, I’ll share a story he wrote with his own handwriting in his special journal.  For Mitch, and my other children, stories were not only a means of escape, they became a window to possibility, and a candle that illuminated strengths I saw in them. 

Over the last year I’ve been slowly assembling some content to help other families enjoy the same thing our children did.  I’ll be posting some of this content here over the next few days.  Some of the videos share tender stories of Mitchell and his love of stories, others give ideas on how you can try this form of storytelling with those you love.

I share this because storytelling was a big part of Mitchell’s life.  Even during his final weeks on hospice, he wanted to get swept away in story so he could take his mind off heavy things.

So, whether you have sick kids or healthy kids, young ones, or old ones … this content is for you and anyone willing to experience the magic of storytelling. 

SECRET FOREST (at night) *

When Mitch was a young boy he thought the little forest in our back yard was a gateway to something magical. It is a small, unremarkable place, but if you take your imagination with you, it’s as big as you want it to be and more amazing than any place on earth. 

Just yesterday I took my older kids up to the woods and together we toiled to build a small pond along the trail. I included them in the design and creation of it because I wanted them to have a sense of ownership and accomplishment. My heart smiled seeing Ethan & Laura-Ashley work together as a team to do something they've always wanted to do and to do it in the memory of their little brother. I have discovered the process of grief is aided greatly by doing something constructive. While Mitch may have left us, his dream for this little forest remains. It has rallied the hearts and minds of my children and become a type of therapy for us all. We still have many plans for this place and we will work on it every weekend as a family.

My daughter purchased some floating lily pads that glow green, purple and blue at night, which makes the secret forest even more magical when the sun hides its face behind the hills. The forest, now home to some artificial fireflies, make for an even more magical experience. The trail, softly lit by glowing mason jars, gives just enough light to see the path before you and not get lost in the mysterious woods. 

So, last night, after having installed our pond, Wyatt set a glowing turtle next to the water to keep watch. I loved the look of wonder on his face. He later asked me, “Dad, can we go up there every night?” I told him, “You bet, son. You bet.” 

Each night this tiny forest gets a little more magical. Each of my children have their fingerprint on this forest – and that makes my heart smile. This little wooded forest has become a place to remember the past and enjoy the magic of now. This night my heart is filled with gratitude and peace. 

Here is a short post on Instagram that matches the magical mood of last night: http://tinyurl.com/qjlk2vj



This is the view from the top of our property and just outside the secret forest. Mitch loved this place. We placed a bench here years ago and Mitch and I would eat Popsicles and talk about life, friends and video games while we watched our part of the world turn away from the sun. 

 

In a manner of speaking, this place has become hallowed ground to me; both because of the memories it keeps and also because it reminds me to try and see above all that would obstruct my view of life. I hope to always see the forest through the trees … and the world for what it is and what it isn't. I hope to always have perspective.

THE LAST STORY

About 14 years ago I started a storytelling tradition with my kids that would only require music and one’s imagination and then the universe was at our fingertips.

On my iPod are playlists that contain all manner of movie & video game scores in random order, across every genre. Often, after their teeth were brushed and my kids were tucked snugly in bed, I would turn on a playlist and narrate random stories out of thin air – and my kids were the heroes. Because the music would shape the narrative, none of us knew where we were going. Each night was an untold adventure waiting to be explored and as lights dimmed and the music began to play my children and I would be swept far away in story. Suddenly the bedroom walls crumbled to the floor and the ceiling unzipped and they saw a night sky with strange planets, or suddenly they were crossing a vast field of grass on a journey surrounded by storms that were closing in, or they were atop a glass-covered skyscraper in a mega-city about to launch their jet-pack. Wherever we went it was magical and unexpected. 

Before long this practice no longer soothed my kids to sleep but excited them – instead of getting tired they would sit on the edge of their mattress, with hearts pounding, wondering what was next. Sometimes they would argue “No I want to be that guy!” It wasn't long before they began making plot requests and wanted to help shape the story.

These journeys of the mind are always fun. So much so, I even do this with my employees when we are driving long distances. Each of them take a turn telling a story on the fly in response to a song. They don’t get to practice or rehearse, they only respond to the music in real-time – and as the tempo changes, so must the story. Suddenly 100 miles feels like 5 minutes and that we've read 300 fascinating books in the blink of an eye.

I loved this tradition with my kids. I don’t do it as often as I used to. I tried it again with Ethan about 3 weeks ago. We were driving home from his lacrosse practice and I told him a story against the backdrop of song. He was quiet and inside I wondered if he thought I was being an absolute geek. At the end he looked at me, paused and said, “Dad, that was awesome.”

On the night of this photo Natalie and I had just tucked Mitch in. Faithful Marlie snuggled near his feet and he was set. Then he asked me in a soft voice, “Dad, will you tell me a story?” My eyes instantly filled with tears and my throat swelled. “I would love to tell you a story, Mitch.”

I ran to the next room to get a speaker and iPod and for the next 10 minutes Mitch and I went on adventure together. Once again, the ceiling and walls fell away and we were transported to a magical place. We started in an ancient forest where the trees could whisper secrets of a time long gone; we could see the night sky and a fabled moon that was only visible through the forest trees. We traveled vast distances together and Mitch was the hero. All along I kept thinking how in real life this little boy was an even greater hero to me. In life, Mitch couldn't jump great distances nor did he wield physical strength like he did in my stories, but in every way that mattered he was stronger and nobler than the sum total of every character I could imagine.

As my story concluded I knelt by Mitchell and told him, “Son, even though you were the hero in this story, you are my real-life hero, too. You are the most amazing young boy, Mitch. I love you.” He asked why I was crying and I told him it was because sometimes parents have so much love in their hearts for their children they don’t know how to express it, and they cry. I told Mitch that was the magic of being a parent: you create the most amazing miracle of life and watch it grow, develop and become. Parents cry because they love; and love is the most magical power on earth. Love heals and protects, it renews and forgives, it lifts and defends … love gives meaning to life. To know love is to know God.

This was the last story I told Mitch. Not many days would pass before everything in our world began to unravel and we would experience the most sorrowful story of all. A story that would break my heart. Forever.

I have traveled the universe and back with my children and we have visited every age we could imagine, even the age before time. I have discovered parenthood is the greatest adventure of all. It’s a story that needs no soundtrack to be told; a story that frightens and enlightens us … and a story of love and service that never gets old. 

I pray that at the end of my days, when my story is ended and I take that final journey to that place beyond the hills, that my son will be the first person I see. And I will run to him and give him a father's embrace. For I love him. I miss his kind soul, I long to see his sweet face.