I love to tell stories. Oh, I know I’m not always good at it; missing important details, muffing essential conversations. But still, I have these memories in my head, and they want out. So, I type them out, giving shape to the vague and not-so-vague snippets of time which still linger inside my head. There are so many more that have yet to be told, but most them would be of no interest to you: The neighbor girl who whined “Don’t step on my toes!” constantly as we boarded the bus behind her…The two high-school age brothers who had fist-fights frequently in their front-yard…There’s even Tony and his old three-wheeled mail cart giving me rides home after school. All these and more are stories which remain in the musty files of my memory, perhaps to be trotted out and perhaps to stay put. Time will tell…
But, it wasn’t my intention to talk about the true stories tonight. Those are just narratives, a recounting of events as they happened. I’m thinking about lies tonight. A few years ago, when someone believed that you were lying to them, they would say “You’re just telling me a story.” I don’t hear the word “story” used in this context quite as much today, but it’s safe to say that I’ve done my share of that kind of storytelling, too. One of the best (or worst) examples I can think of came in first grade. A rainy day had driven us inside the cafeteria to wait for the bus and as we waited, a couple of us went up onto the little stage to play around. I happened to notice an inflatable globe on the floor under a desk which was shoved up into a dark corner. The two of us played with the sadly deflated, glorified beach ball for awhile and then a voice yelled through the door, “Bus number three is here!” As I grabbed my lunch box, I also grabbed that globe, in effect stealing it. I remember thinking, “Well, it’s just lying on the floor. Nobody wants it,” as I took it.
I boarded the bus and immediately, one of the fifth graders noticed the globe in my arms and grabbed it from me. It was handed to the bus driver and word got back to the teacher the next day. I got sent to Mr. Rhodes office pretty quickly. Confronted with my crime, I had made up a story for my teacher, telling her that it had been a birthday present. Consequently, she sent me straight to the principal’s office (some “pal” he turned out to be). The lie, coupled with the theft, was enough to earn me a paddling. As I walked back into my classroom, rear end still tingling, Mrs. Reid asked aloud, for all the class to hear, “Well, what did you figure out?” Of course, you realize that this was in a day before sensitivity training, and different methods were used. The criminal was expected to confess his crime publicly. Well, this criminal wasn’t confessing. In fact, the story was added to, “It was a birthday present. It must just look like one from the school. Yep, that’s it. We decided that it’s mine”
Almost before the words were out of my mouth, she was talking to the office on the intercom system. Back to the principal I went. The paddle was plied once more and I made the long, painful trip back to the first grade wing. This time when the question was asked, the facts were imparted, instead of the story. “It’s not mine,” came the words softly. I refused to say anything else. In one short sentence, the liar and thief was exposed. It’s a lesson I will never forget.
Have I told other lies? Absolutely. Have I stolen anything else? Affirmative. I didn’t say the lesson was learned, just that I remember it vividly to this day. Liars lie. Thieves steal. They get better at their craft or they receive more punishment. But, it was a turning point. I understood the shame of exposure and the pain of punishment. I also understood what I was. I never again argued with anyone about being a sinner. I’m thankful that lying thieves are offered Grace.
You know, there’s something else about storytelling. No, not the lying kind. I’m back to the original ones now. As I put down the words of this story tonight, I realized that for years, I have blamed Mrs. Reid for embarrassing me. In telling the story, I’ve had a catharsis of sorts. She was really doing what she believed was best for me and for the other students. For me, because I needed to own up to my actions; that much is clear. It didn’t hurt that the exposure before the rest of the class would curtail any other such actions by other class members when they saw the embarrassing result. No, the only one to blame for this predicament was me. After all this time, I see it clearly and that dear lady, certainly passed on by now, is finally off the hook.
So, you see; stories do have their benefits. I think I’ll keep telling them. The narratives, I mean. I’d probably just have to “fess up” to the other kind, so I believe I’ll stick to the truth for the foreseeable future.
“Hamlet: It is as easy as lying. Govern these ventages with your fingers and thumb, give it breath with your mouth, and it will discourse most eloquent music.”
(William Shakespeare~English playwright~1564-1616)
“Life begins at 40 – But so do fallen arches, rheumatism, faulty eyesight, and the tendency to tell a story to the same person, three or four times.”
(Helen Rowland~English/American writer~1876-1950)