A Story of the Story

Let me introduce you to a character you will encounter several times in stories and discussions throughout this book. His name is Fred Mouse, and he lives in a hole in the wall in the corner of the house as he always has done since he first joined our family two generations ago. He came along one night when my daughter wanted a bedside story but was not interested in the tired old storybooks she had heard time and time again. He came from nowhere in particular, a necessity of the situation, and told a simple tale that replicated her activities of the day. The next night, despite a fresh supply of colorful storybooks from the library, my daughter wanted Fred Mouse . . . and he stayed, entertaining and informing my daughter, my son, and my grandson, and is just entering the life of my little granddaughter.

For a tiny—and sometimes timid—mouse, Fred has two special qualities that make him such a good storyteller. First, he listens with his heart, and second, he spins a story based on his observations. Once, for example, he told a tale of a special adventure with his very dear friend Thomas (my grandson) that began when Fred found a fragile, dusty old treasure map while exploring the hidden gaps in the walls of the house. Carefully, he and Thomas unrolled it on the floor and began to study it.

"Look!" said Thomas, "It is right here near Grandpa George's house."

"And it has a dotted trail leading to Mount Thomas," added Fred.

"I know where that is," exclaimed Thomas, "because I climbed it and Grandpa George named it after me."

So Fred and Thomas followed the map to the summit from where they heard, way below, a heavy thump, thump, thump, and peered down to see a huge, mean-looking dinosaur stomping around squishing people under his bigger-than-elephant feet. The people called him Tyrannosaurus Bad Rex, and as they ran to escape him they were stomping on ants. What a disaster! The dinosaur was squishing people, and the people were squishing ants, and none of them heard each other's cries for help.

The map pointed Fred Mouse and Thomas to a secret cave just below the summit that was easy to enter for a mouse of Fred's size, but a tight, wriggly squeeze for Thomas. Inside, they were in a different world, walking through swamps and jungles, along beaches and over islands until they found a big, old wooden treasure chest, right where the cross was marked on the map.

Can you imagine their excitement? And then their disappointment to discover the old wooden treasure chest was secured with a rusty old padlock for which they had no key. Thomas climbed down to Grandpa George's house to borrow a tool box, and with a lot pushing and tugging, pulling and shoving, banging and twisting, the padlock eventually popped open, allowing them to lift the stiff lid with a long, slow creeeaking sound.

Imagine how much more disappointed they were to find the chest held no gold or precious jewels. Just as well, thought Fred, for gold and jewels could not help them save the people or the ants from Tyrannosaurus Bad Rex. Thomas had hoped for a mighty sword with which, heroically, he could slay the bad dinosaur, but the chest contained nothing more than a story. They were about to drop the lid shut when the Story spoke.

"Wait," it called, "I am a magic story bestowed with all the powers of every story that has ever been told or written. As you have discovered me, it is my duty to help you. Tell me what I can do?"

"Well," said Fred Mouse, "we have a very big problem," thinking of the size of Tyrannosaurus Bad Rex when viewed from the lowly height of a mouse, and he told how people, who were squishing ants, were being squished by a big bad Tyrannosaurus.

"Let us visit the ants," said the Story, so they followed a long, busy line of ants to their nest where ants chaotically scurried in every direction—for someone had stood on the nest, squishing their homes and many of their friends. As Fred Mouse and Thomas gently handed the Story to the queen ant, it began a tale in the ants' own language. Silence fell on the confusion as ants stopped scurrying and gathered to listen to a tale Fred and Thomas could not understand. Silence remained for a while after the story finished, then the ants spoke in hushed voices among themselves and with the Story. Fred and Thomas saw them nodding as if in agreement.

Eventually the Story said, "Let us go visit the people."

They, too, were running about in confusion. Tyrannosaurus Bad Rex had just stomped through their village, flattening cars, knocking down houses, destroying schools, and squishing people. Fred Mouse and Thomas listened to their distress and, not knowing how else to help, gave them the Story. Again the Story brought calm to the confusion as people stopped to listen, entranced, comforted, encouraged, guided, and hopeful.

"Now," said the Story, "It is time for us to find one Tyrannosaurus Bad Rex."

This was a scary suggestion for a tiny, timid mouse like Fred and even a boy as brave as Thomas, but it wasn't hard to follow the trail of a careless dinosaur whose huge feet punched imprints into farmers' paddocks, flattened bushes, and knocked over trees, finally leading to a tall tree under which Tyrannosaurus Bad Rex lay snoring peacefully. Thomas quietly crept past his long greenish tail, around his big strong legs, past his fat belly, and up his neck, and placed the Story gently by his ear. The Tyrannosaurus pricked up his ear, slowly opened an eye, and listened to a story in dinosaur language. A tear rolled from his eye and down his cheek, dropping to the ground near Fred Mouse and

Thomas, who had to duck quickly, for it was like someone throwing a bucket of water at them from an upstairs window.

"Come," beckoned the Story, "Climb up on Rex's head. We are going back to visit the people and the ants."

Wow! How exciting! Fred and Thomas had never dreamed of riding on a dinosaur's head. How carefully he placed his feet to avoid flattening farmers' crops and people's homes. Back in the village the Story broke down the barriers and bridged the gaps, translating among dinosaur, people, and ants in a way that all could understand.

"Let's celebrate," someone shouted, and they put on the weirdest party you could imagine. Rex blew up the balloons, for he had more puff than anyone else. The people supplied the food that they had cultivated and stored, while the ants offered to clean up the scraps after. And everyone felt happier than they had for a long time.

In a quiet moment, Fred Mouse and Thomas asked the Story, "How did you do it? What was the story you told?"

"It is easy to become so involved in our own story," replied the Story, "that we don't hear the stories of others. As our stories shape the ways we see things and the ways we respond to events, I simply told the ants the people's story: how, like the ants, their homes and lives were being destroyed—so they were not deliberately squishing ants but, in looking up and watching out for the Tyrannosaurus Bad Rex, they were not looking down to see what they were doing to the ants. Then I told the people the ants' story, and the dinosaur the people's story, for he, wrapped in his own loneliness, had not realized what he was doing to the people.

Hearing the stories, the ants offered to help the people by cleaning up after them if the people took care where they stepped, and the people offered to befriend lonely Rex if he watched where he stepped, and Rex offered to tread carefully if the people and ants would be his friends.

"Stories," continued the Story, "can make and stop wars, destroy and build friendships, confuse and inform our thinking, burden and enrich our world. Used as carefully as Rex has learned to walk, they have the power to solve our problems and shape our lives."

If there was more to hear from the Story, Fred Mouse and Thomas didn't hear it for in gratitude, everyone had begun to thump the table, calling, "Speech! speech!" to Fred. Rex was so enthusiastic that he almost smashed the table before reminding himself it was okay to be enthusiastic carefully. When Fred spoke he thanked everyone for listening to, and acting on, the stories. He announced that Rex should henceforth be known as Tyrannosaurus Good Rex, and that the Story should no longer be hidden in a dusty old chest but be available as a treasure for everyone.

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