Jumping Off the Top Bunk

ceiling fanThere’s a Jewish saying, “God created man because he loves stories.” I don’t think that’s the only reason God created the world, but I like the saying. We live multistoried lives and, I believe, he wants to be a part of them every step of the way.

After elementary school children return to school after break, teachers will often give them an assignment to write about “what they did over summer vacation.”

The papers end up being lists of things that happened: I went to camp and I went swimming and then I played video games, etc . . .

One time I was doing a residency at a school after summer vacation, teaching the students about storytelling and writing and I said, “Please don’t tell me what you did over the summer. But could someone tell me about something that went wrong?”

A fourth-grade boy shot his hand up into the air and said, “My cousin came over and we were seeing who could jump the farthest off the bunk bed.”

“Okay, what happened?” I asked.

“Well, he went first and he got pretty far and I said, ‘I can get farther than that.’” The boy paused again. He was a natural storyteller and by then the whole class was leaning forward listening.

“So did anything go wrong?”

“I jumped off the bed,” he said, “and the ceiling fan was on. I got my head stuck in the fan and it threw me against the wall!” The whole class erupted in laughter.

Now, if I would’ve said, “Tell me about what you did over vacation,” he might have given me a report: “I played with my cousin.” But when I asked him to tell me about what went wrong, he told me a story.

Great storytellers know that the entire story pivots upon the struggle of your main character and what he is trying to achieve, overcome, or accomplish.

I think that the same is true in our lives. We face difficulties and struggles and our lives are disrupted. We try to get things back to normal, but we don’t succeed—in the end, life moves on to a new kind of normal: a computer crashes, we lose a job, a spouse leaves, a son dies.

We live in a fractured and imperfect world, which means that we are entering and leaving new stories every day.

Even if that means I have to deal with getting my head stuck in the ceiling fan every now and again.