School Kids

“Do you solemnly swear,” I began, “to tell all sorts of stories about anything and everything, even dumb things?”

Selma, Alabama—I am in a school gymnasium, staring at bleachers filled with kids. I have no idea why I’m here.

I don’t know why 140 students are staring at me. I don’t know why I have a microphone in my hand. I don’t know what I’m doing with my life.

I have spoken in a lot of schools in my time. Sometimes it goes well, sometimes it feels like having your soul sucked from your body.

Nevertheless, I am trying to deliver tales the best I can to these kids who are smarter than I am. But I’m struggling.

A few months ago, I told stories in a school in Lower Alabama. The children gathered into the gymnasium and stared at me for sixty minutes while I spoke. Not single child even blinked—not even when I told my top-shelf jokes.

But there was a little boy in the front row who listened with both ears. And I’ll never forget him. He laughed at everything I said. Even things that weren’t funny.

He was 8 years old. He wore hunting boots, blue jeans, and a stained T-shirt. And even though I was a flop that day, he clapped like we were at Carnegie Hall.

When storytime was over, I wanted to hide beneath a rock and only come out for Christmas dinner. But before I could leave the gymnasium, the kid came galloping toward me.

“Hey!” he said. “I wanna shake your hand, man!”

His hand was clammy, he was missing two front teeth, and he was as cute as a duck in a hat.

He said, “How do I be a storyteller guy like you? Is it hard to learn? I wanna do what you do.”

The truth is, I don’t actually know how to tell stories, I just pretend to. Furthermore, I don’t know why anyone would listen to them.

I said, “I’m really not the guy to ask, Chief, I’m not all that good.”

“What?” he said. “You were AWESOME! I wanna be a storyteller just like you when I’m old like you. Do you think I can be a storyteller one day?”

I didn’t know how to answer. After all, my career path hasn’t exactly been what you’d call a “path.” It’s been more like a career dog-paddle.

“You don’t wanna be a storyteller,” I said.

The kid said, “I really do.”

And this humbled me. Not just because he was asking questions I couldn’t answer, but because I have no children. And I’ve never met a child who wanted to grow up to be me.

“Oh, it’s very complicated,” I said. “To be a storyteller, first you gotta be sworn in.”

“How do I do that?”

I squatted onto my heels. “Well, you have to REALLY be sure you wanna be a storyteller. It’s not all that fun sometimes, you know.”

“It’s not?”

“Nope. Sometimes it’s hard. Sometimes, you end up speaking in gymnasiums full of kids who refuse to laugh even if the gymnasium is pumped full of deadly amounts of nitrous oxide.”

“What’s nitramus ox…”

“The point is, Chief, you’re a smart kid, you don’t wanna be like me.”

He frowned.

“But…” I went on. “If you’re mind’s really set on it, I can swear you in.”

“You can?”

I looked him over. I straightened his collar. I told him to hold up his right hand. I cleared my throat.

“Do you solemnly swear,” I began, “to tell all sorts of stories about anything and everything, even dumb things?”

No answer.

“Chief,” I whispered. “You have to say ‘I do.’”

“I do.”

“And do you vow to memorize as many one-liner jokes as your memory will allow without violating the standards of the Southern Baptist Convention?”

“What’re one-liners?”

“Just say ‘I do.’”

“I do.”

“And, do you hereby swear to fulfill your duty toward mankind and use your stories for truth, justice, and the American Way?”

“I do.”

“Congratulations, Chief, you are a storyteller.”

To seal the deal, I gave him a guitar pick that was in my pocket.

“What do I do now?” he whispered.

“Don’t worry, it’ll come to you.”

A teacher guided him out of the gymnasium. He flashed one more gap-toothed smile and he was gone.

One teacher said to me, “That’s the most excited we’ve seen him all year.

“He’s been through a lot. He lost his parents in an accident, and he’s just sorta bouncing between relatives, it’s enough to break your heart.”

I watched him walk down the hallway, holding the hand of his teacher, staring at a guitar pick some fool gave him.

I never thought I’d be doing what I do. For most of my life, I’ve been a faceless blue collar who had no business opening his mouth in public.

I don’t know if these kids care a thing about the things I say. And I don’t know why I’m here, holding a microphone. In fact, sometimes I don’t even know who I am.

But It’s good to have an 8-year-old buddy who seems to know.


  1. Pamela McEachern - October 17, 2018 5:57 am

    Sean I don’t really believe in accidental meetings. I think you were put in that little boy’s life for the same reason he was put in yours. He could use a friend and maybe you could be that friend to him, maybe stay in touch. Seems like a match made in Heaven.

    Peace and Love from Birmingham

    • Pat - October 17, 2018 3:23 pm

      I was just about to type the same thing Pamela…God at work!

  2. Cheryl Clem - October 17, 2018 8:57 am

    You were in a God Thing Moment for sure. That little fellow Needs you and YOU need him. Stay in touch !

  3. Nancy Rogers - October 17, 2018 9:13 am

    Those moments are why I stay in teaching.

  4. Marlene T - October 17, 2018 10:24 am

    I’m sure it was disappointing that the kids didn’t seem to connect with you. BUT that one sweet boy did and got exactly what he needed, a special moment. He may not grow into a storyteller but he will always remember you and that time you spent with just him.
    Thank you for those special moments my favorite Chip Monk and keep your heart open. You do make a difference!!!

  5. Jean - October 17, 2018 11:31 am

    Feels to me like you two have bonded. Maybe you need each other.

  6. Naomi - October 17, 2018 11:58 am

    Sean, you never know how God is going to use you. Of all the kids in the gymnasium, you helped the one kid who needed you. God sent you there for that one child. Most Christians say, “I’ll pray about it” before they’ll give a starving man a nickel. I have found out that these people find you–in the supermarket, in a restaurant, on a bus, and on the street. Don’t just pray about it; do something.

  7. Janie's Jottings - October 17, 2018 12:00 pm

    Some folks are born storytellers Sean, like you and your daddy. Perhaps Chief is one too but didn’t realize it till he was sitting there listening to you. Maybe one day we’ll hear from him again. Keep doing what you’re doing Sean, you’re making a difference in this old world.

  8. Connie Havard Ryland - October 17, 2018 12:20 pm

    You touch people every day. People have different gifts, thank Goodness, because it would be a boring world if we were all alike. You gift your gift to everyone who listens to you. I appreciate it, every day. You make me want to be a better person. Love and hugs.

  9. Margaret Cade - October 17, 2018 12:30 pm

    Wish you would keep in touch with that child. He needs you.

  10. Judy - October 17, 2018 12:31 pm

    That kid could be a friend for life…just saying. He sounds as if he needs one; maybe you too.

  11. Laurie A Wasilewski - October 17, 2018 12:48 pm

    God bless that little guy, and God bless you too, Sean!

  12. Brenda - October 17, 2018 12:59 pm

    Sean I would drive to here you every night and kids would too. Why do you think kids get in the bed and say “will you tell me a story”? I tell my grandkids the same old stories and they still want to here them.
    Your the best and your music is not bad either.

  13. Andrea Peebles - October 17, 2018 1:04 pm

    If that little boy has no parents and you have no little boy that wants to be like you when he grows up…seems like a match made in Heaven. Accident? Maybe not.

  14. Jack Darnell - October 17, 2018 1:12 pm

    I used to tell stories. But I had plenty of props. I lost my hearing and cannot interact anymore. I miss that ONE kid that makes your life much better. You are one fortunate guy, and VERY good. Hey even the written stories are PRETTY good. LOL

  15. joy - October 17, 2018 1:14 pm

    Andrea, exactly what I was thinking.

  16. Becky Jan - October 17, 2018 1:16 pm

    You are truly one of God’s Angels here on earth. I have my daily devotion time then head to my email to read your stories. You inspire me to be, do and act better every day because you write about people, their lives, the places they live and their stories. You and your wife are both Angels here on earth because you care about people and life. Truly y’all are an inspiration in this world that is circling the tub drain. God bless and keep making me laugh, cry and think about others.

  17. Roxanne - October 17, 2018 1:27 pm

    I have been a teacher since 1991. I teach jr. high–the time everyone wants to forget and everyone thinks I’m crazy to teach. Despite the lack of laughs, you touched more than one kid that day, and even if it’s ONLY the one, it was so, totally worth it. It only takes one.

  18. Marty from Alabama - October 17, 2018 1:33 pm

    I remember someone once said that you should always behave at your best when in front of children. You never know when one is looking up to you as an example to follow. Just remember that when one day you see a young man performing as a motivational speaker because of a man that swore him in as a storyteller and gave him a guitar pick. Good deeds never get wasted.
    Keep writing and talking.

  19. Rhonda Howell - October 17, 2018 1:40 pm

    Sounds like somebody needs a fishing buddy. Somebody with an extra bamboo pole, that knows how serious time spent with your feet dangling can be.
    Sounds like there are some small hands that need to gently rub velvet ears and know that there is more to life than hurt.
    Sounds like someone needs Jamie’s biscuits that can cure the deepest hurt and a uncle that somehow knows what a boy is feeling, when he doesn’t really know how to feel. What has been lost can’t be replaced but a good friendship can get you through things. Fill holes in your heart with a different kind of love.
    Its hard being a stray. Enough is never an adjective you use to describe yourself. But when somebody unattached, reaches out and loves you on purpose. Just cause they do….. You ever wondered why a stray pup just has a glory experience when you touch their head? Its a deep thirst getting just a sip of cool sweet water.
    This boy might not be your buddy, but you have too much to give to not find you somebody to tell all these stories to.

    • Chasity Ritter - December 8, 2018 3:28 pm

      I loved reading your reply as much as Sean’s story. Both truly moving and made me cry. God bless the story tellers and the strays too

  20. MermaidGrammy - October 17, 2018 1:47 pm

    You have a follower and that little boy has a mentor. Don’t let him get away. Adoption is a wonderful thing. Or just be his forever friend. Don’t let him get away. Again

  21. Dianne Rathje - October 17, 2018 1:50 pm

    Sean, maybe you need to seriously consider adopting him

  22. Shirley Brown - October 17, 2018 1:56 pm

    Kids know who’s real in this world. You gave that young boy hope Sean. You’ll be a bright light when he feels he’s lost his way. Thank you for reaching out to those who need a helping hand. Your words and deeds make an impact. Keep up the good work.

  23. Trina V. - October 17, 2018 2:16 pm

    I teach high school seniors. Many days, I feel like the teacher from Charlie Brown. You know….waaw waw waw wawwawwawwaaaa. But every year, there is that one student who seems to connect with me, and usually, it is a kid who struggles, whether academically, socially, financially, or all of the above. It thrills my soul when, years later, I see them and they introduce me to their husband/wife/kids and tell me about their successes. Then I have no doubt about what I was called to do. Nor should you. You touch lives every single day with your stories.

  24. Debbie - October 17, 2018 2:19 pm

    This brought me to tears! You made a little boy feel special…. a little boy who has been through more than most grown ups! God bless you!

  25. KAREN FRATES - October 17, 2018 2:35 pm

    I just love this story!! You never know whose heart you are going to touch or be a mentor to. Such a sweet story and the humilityof the little boy tells it all. What a joy!!!

  26. Jack Quanstrum - October 17, 2018 2:38 pm

    Amen to that!

  27. Linda Lovvorn - October 17, 2018 2:43 pm

    I can’t wait to read your column every day! Don’t ever doubt your awesome talent!

  28. Lylabeth King - October 17, 2018 2:45 pm

    Sean, you have no idea the impact you are having on people of all ages. Keep doing what you’re doing and keep writing about it. God is using you in a powerful way.

  29. Edna B. - October 17, 2018 3:07 pm

    I have to agree with the rest of the folks here. I think you and that little boy were brought together on purpose. Ever hear of the Big Brother foundation? That guitar pick is going to give that little boy something to hang to. A big brother would be awesome! You have a gift, Sean. And maybe you can help that little fellow to develop a gift of his own. God Bless you and that little boy. Hugs, Edna B.

  30. Pat - October 17, 2018 3:30 pm

    God is at work here Sean…listen to him. If the kid is bouncing from relative to relative I’m sure he would benefit from a stable homelife. My gut is saying check out the possibilities please!

  31. CSmith - October 17, 2018 3:37 pm

    Brought tears to my eyes… Keep doing what you do.

  32. Diana - October 17, 2018 4:40 pm

    This one made me cry.. It’s amazing when God reveals Himself and you know you are doing what you should be doing.

  33. Penn Wells - October 17, 2018 4:50 pm

    Not to worry. We know why you’re here. Trust us on this one.

  34. Shelton Armour - October 17, 2018 6:24 pm

    Yeah…the poster just before me said it all. You tell truths we need to hear-we know why you are here and are most grateful for your stories. Trust us-you’re good and doing good-keep it up.

  35. Alice Grimes - October 17, 2018 7:14 pm

    Sean, you never have to question if God has a purpose for the gift you have been given. Praying for this child and for you; may God make a way for you to fill some of the hole left on this child’s heart.

  36. Jan Hammac - October 17, 2018 8:14 pm

    Well, SOS, it’s like this: You put yourself down a lot and that’s bothering me. You see, you, like every human ever born, were created to fill a space in God’s great universe. Your gift of words touches hearts and lives that no one else can. Sometimes when I wake in the middle of the night and check messages – there you are! And I lie there alone in the dark smiling because of your wit and thoughts. As we age life sometimes becomes lonely and certainly the more basic things take on more meaning. You are a blessing and a special friend. NEVER question your uniqueness – you’re special!

  37. Debbie Shiflett - October 18, 2018 3:45 am

    I know who you are Sean. A caring man who watches and sees others and is gifted to tell about what you see. God gives us all gifts, you’ve found yours with writing, sharing, playing music, even sharing with a gym full of kids. Others are blessed through you. Don’t sell yourself short. You are loved and appreciated, just ask that little boy with the missing front teeth.

  38. Robert Chiles - October 18, 2018 11:23 am

    Dianne hit it on the head. You ought to seriously consider adopting him.

  39. Esteban - October 19, 2018 1:34 am

    Their is a fine line between humility and inappropriate self-denigration. In these days of narcissistic self promotion, not many come close to crossing this line. But be careful, young man. You ARE a story teller, a great one. You have a gift that you are using to make our lives kinder, sweeter, and more in line with what is right and true. We learn best from stories. That makes you a great teacher. Just as you love us and need us, we love and need you. Don’t ever forget that.

  40. Steve Winfield - October 19, 2018 8:18 pm

    I bet you agree. That’s about as good as it gets right there. Better watch your step. That might be the sole reason God put you here. (Just kidding but I’m sure he intervened.) Godspeed.

  41. kathi hill - October 26, 2018 6:43 pm

    Sometimes you are meant to speak to only one…even if there is a crowd.


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