His name is Kenny Tedford. And he’s the subject of my new book that’s being published today, called Four Days with Kenny Tedford. And despite the title, it’s one I’ve been working on for over six years. So, I’m incredibly pleased to tell you that it’s finally on shelves today.
I can also confidently say that it’s the most meaningful book I’ve ever written, or ever will. And once I explain to you a little about Kenny Tedford, you’ll understand why.
Now, I’m going to have a lot more to say about Kenny and this book in other posts. In fact, I’ll probably bring him on my podcast and let you get to know him personally. But I think what I should do here is let you meet Kenny Tedford the way I met Kenny Tedford, which I explain on the first few pages of the book.
So, if you’ll indulge me, I’m just going to share those first two and a half pages to you so you can see how we met, and get to know a little about Kenny.
Excerpt from the Four Days with Kenny Tedford, page i.
I was sitting in the front row waiting for the next performance to start when I saw him. He was a large man. Sixty-ish. With grey hair encircling a bald head, and glasses thick enough to start a fire on a sunny day.
He walked slowly and deliberately, with a slight list to one side. He made his way down the aisle and sat in the chair next to me.
Following quickly behind him was a twenty-something man with dark hair. The young man pulled one of the empty chairs out of the row, turned it around backwards, placed it directly in front of the older man, and sat down with his back to the stage.
I was intrigued, to say the least.
A few minutes later, the next speaker walked on stage and started her performance. The young man, who’d been staring at the older man, silent and motionless since sitting down, suddenly sprang into action. He lifted his hands in front of his chest and began a flurry of cryptic motions that identified him immediately as a sign language interpreter, and the older man as deaf.
I thought that was pretty ballsy, a deaf guy at a three-day storytelling festival.
I knew immediately I wanted to meet him. So at the next break, I introduced myself. We exchanged a few pleasantries, enough to know that he was an affable sort of guy. But we both had to go to our next set of workshops.
An hour later, I was walking with a tray of food, looking for an empty table, and that same affable fellow walked up to me and asked if I wanted to have lunch with him. I quickly accepted.
We sat at a table by ourselves, his interpreter having been given time off for lunch.
For the next hour, I listened to Kenny Tedford tell his story.
I listened while he spoke with impressive diction, but with the muted tones of a deaf person. And he read my lips, seemingly, as easily as I spoke with them.
But, underneath the telltale tone of his voice, I noticed something else telling. His vocabulary and sentence structure were both charmingly juvenile. As his story unfolded, I started to understand why. His deafness turned out to be only one of many challenges life dealt Kenny Tedford. He was almost blind in one eye, and had poor vision in the other, partially paralyzed on his left side, unable to speak well until the age of ten, and had somewhat limited cognitive abilities, all of which were a result of brain damage suffered at birth. And as if that weren’t enough, in the years since, he’d endured a string of near-fatal illnesses that should have left him dead many times over.
Despite it all, the man sitting in front of me seemed to be the most delightful individual one could ever meet. His temperament and outlook on life and humanity were unquestionably positive in a way I can only describe as childlike. In fact, he struck me as a remarkable combination of Helen Keller and Forrest Gump. Keller, of course, was deaf, blind, and mute. But she was a brilliant thinker and accomplished writer. The fictional Forrest Gump, on the other hand, was a model of physical health once he shook off the leg braces. But he suffered a diminished mental capacity that gave him his childlike charm.
Kenny Tedford, however, had both sets of challenges.
So there I sat, watching this somewhat goofy-looking, old, bald, roly-poly man, smiling at me with enormously distorted bug eyes through his impossibly thick glasses, telling me almost unbelievable stories in the words of a child, but with the voice of a grown man, who’d never properly heard the sound of his own voice.
I was mesmerized.
The hour ended way too quickly. I’d only scratched the surface of Kenny’s life. But it was enough to be fascinated by what I’d heard, and to be frustrated that I didn’t know more.
I wondered how a man in his circumstances could have such a positive disposition. Why isn’t he bitter at life for dealing him such a crappy hand, I wondered. I was pretty sure I would be.
I had so many questions. But it was time for the next session. My chance encounter was over. I didn’t know if or when I would ever see or speak to Kenny Tedford again. But what I did know was that I felt strangely blessed having met him.
. . .
Well, that was June 28, 2012 at the National Storytelling Conference in Covington, Kentucky. I couldn’t have predicted then what would have transpired in his life or mine in the intervening seven years. And certainly not the four days he would eventually spend at my house with my family, sharing his unbelievable life story.
But that did happen. And this book documents not only his incredible life journey, but the impact he had sharing that journey with me and my wife and two young boys over those four days. He came into our house a stranger, but walked out of it as a family member. And I’ve done my best in the book to bring you into our home with us as we listen to Kenny share his stories and reflect on them and the beauty and wisdom they contain.
And I can tell you that I learned more in those four days about courage, faith, family, persistence, kindness, respect, and humility than I learned in the rest of my lifetime before or since.
In fact, in the final chapter we outline a set of those life lessons for people living with all sorts of disabilities and trauma and abuse and the loss of loved ones, as well as another set of lessons for people who love and care for those living with such challenges.
So, in addition to just being an incredible story, we’ve also tried to offer some practical advice from the life lessons Kenny Tedford learned the hard way.
A Personal Note
And finally, on a personal note, as I’m writing these words, on the day this book is being published, it’s two days before Thanksgiving, 2019 — over five years since Kenny spent four days here sharing his life story. And I’m looking forward to tomorrow when I get to drive to the airport to pick up a man who has now become a dear friend, so that my family and I can spend another beautiful Four Days with Kenny Tedford.
Happy Thanksgiving to you and your loved ones.
Source: Four Days with Kenny Tedford, by Paul Smith.
Paul Smith is one of the world’s leading experts on business storytelling. He’s a keynote speaker, storytelling coach, and bestselling author.
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