Mrs. Rhodes taught fifth grade and had the highest of expectations for all of her students. One of her assignments included memorizing and reciting a poem. Which meant public speaking. As soon as she gave the assignment to my class, a kaleidoscope of butterflies began their rendition of chasing tornadoes in my stomach. With Mom’s help, I chose the poem Eletelephony by Laura Elizabeth Richards.
Once there was an elephant,
Who tried to use the telephant—
No! No! I mean an elephone
Who tried to use the telephone—
You can read the entire poem here. It didn’t take me long to memorize it. In fact, most days, I can still recite it. I practiced reciting my poem over and over again, with friends on the playground and at the lunch table and whispering it to myself as I walked down the hall. By the time I recited the poem for my class, the kaleidoscope had, mostly, calmed.
When I had to speak in high school, giving presentations on books and historical events and other assignments, the kaleidoscope evolved. The butterflies became a troop of tap-dancing monkeys. My knees would shake and my head would break out in a sweat and my throat was so, so dry. But I still carried the majority of my nerves in my stomach, and the monkeys refused to let much of anything digest. I had to wait until after I spoke to eat. I do not recommend the “public speaking diet.”
In college, at then-SMSU, I took the required public speaking class. For the third or fourth speech, the topic was simple: “What is your story?” After surviving my presentation, successfully quieting the dog chasing the cat, I was chosen from my class to speak at the spring showcase. I didn’t even know the speaking contest existed. It was supposed to be an honor to be “the chosen one.” I smiled and said thanks. On the day of the event, I dressed my best. The dog brought friends, as did the cat. My speech was deemed too short by the judges and I didn’t make it past the preliminary rounds. Thanks be to God.
“Stories are equipment for living,” said Kenneth Burke. Humans tell stories, write stories, and read stories to help us be better humans. Stories help us make sense of our world and find our place within it. Stories transmit important information and values between individuals and communities. Stories remind us of who and whose we are and bring people together.
I have a story to tell, even in these days of chaos and great uncertainty. A story of chasing dreams, choosing hope, overcoming obstacles, and making new friends. Of course, it’s a story of baseball, but it’s also a story about taking risks and learning to live a good story. With everything in me, I believe it’s a story needed “for such a time as this.”
Who knows what animals will show up?
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If you are interested in inviting me to speak, email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org.