family · Life

Tell Me a Story

During our down time in Bosnia, Leah starting asking, “Tell me a story.”

It was so open-ended that I struggled with it.

I asked her if she got the idea for that from La La Land. Those words were the lead-in to my favorite song from the movie.

Leah assured me that, no, she had been asking that question for years. I’m pretty sure that La La Land got the idea from her.

So, sitting in the shade one day, she said, “Tell me a story.”

“I can’t,” I told her. “I need some parameters.”

“Okay. Tell me a story about when you were in grade school,” she said — and I did. I told her about a day in 3rd grade when I experienced agony and ecstasy, as best a 3rd grader can.

In short, our class had gotten back from a trip to the library. I had checked out Mark Twain’s “The Prince and the Pauper.” My teacher, Miss Bliss, held up the book (and me, figuratively) as an example of a student choosing good literature to read. Later in the day, I couldn’t find my math paper in my desk — I’ve been a messy for as long as I can remember — and she dumped the contents of my desk on the floor in the middle of the classroom. I can still remember that shame. Same day.

Later, Leah asked Mary to tell a story, and Mary launched into an imaginative story with dragons and little girls. Ajla, one of the Bosnian girls, listened wide-eyed and delighted.

“You are a great storyteller,” she told Mary, “in the lies.”


Ajla’s English was excellent. Except when she didn’t know the right word.

Yesterday, I spent some time at the emergency room with my father.

As we waited and waited, I grew fidgety. An excellent PCA named Roy helped turn my attitude around.

Roy had stopped by my father’s hallway bed several times. He was always cheerful. On one of his check-ins, he looked at me and said, “Tell him a story.”

I was busily mentally drafting complaint letters and griping to my sister via text. I didn’t respond to Roy, so he repeated it.

“I’m talking to you,” he said. “Tell him a story.”

“I can’t,” I said. “I need some parameters.” It was a deja vu moment — and I was back in Bosnia.

“I’ll get you started,” Roy said. “‘Once upon a time in a castle far, far away…’”

I laughed, and took up the story.

“Dad, did I tell you about the castle where we stayed in Bosnia?”

“A castle?” he asked.

the castle

“A real castle,” I repeated, “from the Ottoman Empire.”

Telling him about the castle took our minds off the fact that we were waiting in the emergency room.

With Leah, it took our minds of the heat and lethargy of the day.

“Tell me a story.”

Those are magical words.


13 thoughts on “Tell Me a Story

  1. Oh Sally, this is beautiful. Little do you realize that you are telling me a story every single day. A story of how to be compassionate, and how to listen. A story of how to be brave and how to trust. You tell stories with your words and with your presence. Every chapter has grace and meaning. So very grateful for you.

  2. I’m sorry about the hallway bed, hope your Dad is doing okay. And I love your stories too–perhaps I’ll be reading along after you write them on the next trip 🙂

  3. Such a good message! Hope your father is doing better. And if it makes you feel better, I also got punished for having a messy desk in 3rd grade! The teacher made me remove everything while the whole class watched. I was so ashamed and humiliated. A couple of years later, that same teacher ended up being my coach for a math competition. Talk about awkward! I got second place, so somewhat redeemed myself.

    1. When my children were younger and some struggled with messiness, I heard a speaker say, “Messy children don’t need condemnation. They need help.” I immediately thought of 3rd grade and the shame I felt. Hearing your story makes me wonder how many teachers use(d) shame to try to bring about positive change. Didn’t work for me. Did it for you?

      1. Teaching kids organizational skills is helpful, but public shaming just traumatized me. I keep an organized home but it’s not a museum. I say do whatever works for you and those you live with. There are more important things in life.

  4. Somehow I missed this so I am grateful that you linked back to it in today’s post. I might have missed this touching tale altogether. Tell me a story they said. And she did.

Comments are closed.