I was 11, playing a made-up kind of baseball with a group of kids, our last game before the end of summer. I was at bat when the pitcher accused me of cheating. I vehemently denied this and told him he was just mad because I was a better pitcher than him. He rushed at me, fists waving, calling me names. We started punching each other, me with my eyes closed, furiously banging away at him. Suddenly I heard him curse me as he stopped hitting. I opened my eyes. He was gone. I burst into tears. One of the boys asked why I was crying, that I should be cheering. I’d won the fight. I didn’t feel like a winner. I felt crappy.
I read the student’s note. He’d flunked out of the university but was sure he could pass the two courses needed for re-instatement if he could be in my production of Peter and the Wolf. I was a teaching assistant, (TA) with no power, but I was moved by what he wrote and contacted him.
He was tall and skinny, visibly nervous, as he walked into my small office. He told me how much he loved theatre and how, as a kid, he’d listened to the record of Peter and the Wolf so much he’d practically memorized the words. He begged me to let him join the production. I told him I had no authority to cast him if he wasn’t a registered student. He looked so miserable I said I’d check with the Chair to see what could be done.
She reminded me of a porcupine, ready to shoot quills at a moment’s notice. And yet, when I began each memoir class by telling a world tale, she, like the other 8th graders listened attentively in the class sponsored by PEN, an international organization for Poets, Editors, and Novelists.
One morning, after I told one about how Hummingbird faces her fear and helps Panther recover his eyesight, she told a student who’d come in late, “You missed a really good story.” Fast forward to the end of class when we spend a few minutes reflecting on the session. She spoke up. “I hate the stories you tell. Why do we have to listen to such stupid stories?” I sighed, let the other students talk about their experience, then ended the session. She was one of the most difficult students I’d ever worked with. I felt as if her behavior changed faster than I could blink.
Stories inspired by world tales to challenge and comfort.