The boy watched the water dance across the rocks while his thoughts played over possibilities only he could see. Sometimes he talked of things that might be or could be. Sometimes he described things that only happen in stories or tall tales. In his mind’s eye, though, both are real, at least for the length of the dream.
His imagination explored the context of his favorite cartoons and took them further, placing characters here and there in a world of tiny, imaginary scale. As he talked his eyes played over the scene before us, bending it to his purpose. A stone became a fortress, eddy currents became tides, cattails were palm trees whipped by the wind. Among these, invisible to the rest of us but no less real, scampered villains and heroes playing out the saga he created on the fly.
When his epic reached a pause, I told him each cartoon he watches and every story he reads had someone who, once upon a time, thought it into being. I told him someone took a pen and a blank page and set down the story they’d first made up just for themselves, just in their mind, just the way he was doing.
He’d certainly been aware of that before but, for every storyteller, that’s a fact that suddenly becomes real all at once, as it had for him now. There’s something empowering in knowing the yarns that entertain or inspire us once sprang from the minds of others.
A wide-open, active first-grader, he’s been able to read for a while but only recently begun to take up a book of his own volition, appealing material having finally been found thanks to the help of his teachers at Carver Elementary. The first books are curiosity’s gateway to a lifetime of reward. Others of us had tried, but guessing what a new reader would like to read is like guessing what someone else would like to eat, and without any past experience on their part to aid the guessing. His teachers had hit the recipe, though.
Now his wheels turned in two directions. He imagined again his story and how he would tell it, and part of him understood how the telling of a story helps it become true. If others can see what you see, feel the excitement in something you created, what more does it lack to be real?
Kevin Tate is V.P. of Media Productions for Mossy Oak in West Point.