The Greatest Compliment
For the past three years, I have been asked to tell a story at our churchs Father-Son, and Father-Daughter banquets. The story was meant to entertain the kids and provide a springboard for the featured speaker.
My first such "gig" was about three years ago. It was a fine turnout at our churchs Father and Son Banquet. A time of eating, a time of bonding, and time of stories. It was also the time I received the greatest compliment I believe one could ever receive as a storyteller.
Since the evening was intended to aid in the bonding of fathers and sons, I chose the mythological tale of King Midas. In the version I tell, Midas accidentally turns his only daughter into a statue of gold and thereby learns that relationships are the stuff of true wealth. In telling the story, I took on the role of Midas and dressed accordingly.
I frequently tell my stories as a character wearing the appropriate costume. In order for me to keep a sense of that character, I generally set the stage for the story by giving the audience some reason for my appearance at the function and afterwards, a reason for leaving. Dressed as King Midas, I told the audience that I had been invited to share the incredible story of how I discovered that our family relationships are far more valuable than riches, and how important it is to strengthen them no matter the cost.
I told the story with enthusiasm and passion. I think these two elements are essential in any telling. They give you credibility as a teller, they help draw your audience into the story, and they help breath life into the story itself. When the story was over, a gentleman took the platform and spoke of his experiences in raising a family and what advice he would give other parents. Following that, the pastor acknowledged the participants and ended the occasion with a prayer and benediction.
At the end of the evening, my wife Sandy told me of a young nine-year old boy sitting at a table in back of the auditorium who watched and listened intently as the story unfolded. As Midas danced about on the stage with wonder and excitement, turning various objects of his bedroom into gold simply by touching them, the young boy turned his attention to the table next to him. Trance like, he lifted his left hand, pointed his index finger, reached over and touched his fork. He paused a moment, then touched his knife and proceeded to his spoon. He looked over at his younger brother sitting next to him who was also enjoying the story. Slowly, deliberately, the boy smiled and reached out to touch his little brother on the shoulder. Nothing changed. Nothing happened; except in the mind of a nine-year-old boy. Webster defines imagination as "the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality." For one brief magical moment, a little boy had received the Midas touch through the power of a tale told, and I was privileged to tell that tale. It was the greatest compliment I ever received.
Because stories take up residence in our emotions and imaginations, they serve our memories better and the lessons they teach remain with us longer than any speech or lecture. The organizers of these banquets now realize this, so this past year the evening was orchestrated around the telling and application of the story. Because of the overwhelming response, this will be the recipe for future father-daughter banquets.
I say all this not to highlight my ability to tell a tale. I have told well and I have told poorly. Rather I write this to reconfirm the power of story itself. It amazes me sometimes, how much our lives can be transformed by such a simple thing as a story. Sometimes the transformation only lasts a few moments; sometimes it lasts the rest of our lives. I hope to never lose that sense of amazement, that sense of "story."