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.