The Old, Old Man and the Very Little Boy

Kristine L. Franklin and Terea Shaffer
Toronto: Maxwell Macmillan Canada, 1992

Themes: aging, story telling, life reflection, young at heart

Description: An African boy loves to listen to the village elder’s stories.  “Inside this old, old man lives a very little boy,” says the story teller. The man can’t believe how fast time can pass, while the boy doubts that the old man could have every been young. When enough seasons pass, however, the boy, long grown, begins to speak of the inner youthfulness that he now experiences.

I’ve used this story to emphasize the value of story telling. Whether we’re the tellers or the listeners, there is something to learn. As is the case when teaching children, there are times when the understanding is immediate, and there are times where it’s more productive to think of the task as planting seeds. The wisdom of the old, old man wasn’t apparent to the child until he was much older and remembered the stories told to him, and how meaningful they were to him as a child. The story also opens the question of who is learning from whom. Is it always the story teller who is the teacher or can the inquirer be the teacher? Our questions and our wonder can be so helpful for us elders who often see ourselves as the communicators of wisdom. More often than not, the wisdom flows in the other direction.