Friday, February 21, 2014

Let's Read Some Stories

The cries of her toddler's screams awoke her with a start.  "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!"  A pause.  There it was again.  "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!" Nothing about these screams should have startled the young mother, for they were a frequent cry heard in the early hours of the morning.  A silent moan welled up inside her -- that familiar tightness in her shoulders, resisting the day's monotony of splattered applesauce, smelly diapers, and the very real fear that catastrophe could, would, and should strike any moment.  The day itself began with the reminder of chaos, as Alice continued to scream from her bed, "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!" The mother listened for her husband, perhaps in the kitchen starting his breakfast.  No, he had left for the bus.  Two cars in the driveway: one too dangerous to drive and too costly to repair, the other for her and the children.  Maybe they should get out of the house today... some place other than the grocery store.  Some place to justify her husband leaving an hour before he was due at work, compared to the 15 minutes it took to drive.

The mother turned to see her 9-month-old sleeping soundly on his tummy.  For a brief second she wondered how much more pleasant the morning would be if that baby were in the same room as the Egg Monster, no feedings through the night, just a normal morning with your body's energy a sweet reminder of the deep sleep of the night before.  That dear 9-month-old who much preferred feeding off his mother to a spoonful of anything a grown human might eat.  "Eggs! Eggs! Eggs!"  She crawled out of bed and made the one-second journey to the next room, the nursery. The morning sun always shone brighter in this room where behind, a mess of blonde bedhead, Alice greeted her with a rascally smile.  Alice's blue eyes stuck fast to her mother's. "Eggs?" she asked. 

                                                                         The End 

I often tell my husband that if he read more fiction -- or any story, for that matter -- life would make a lot more sense.  Caleb is an avid reader and a hungry learner, but he strongly prefers philosophy, theology, and the like to a book of fiction.  He's good at understanding information and there is nothing he loves more than understanding a topic backwards and forwards (is there any other way to understand something?).  While in college, I could walk into a Geography test knowing very well that there was plenty I did not understand.  This did not worry me because this was life... I studied my face off and didn't understand everything and that was that.  However, when Caleb worried about a test, it was because he "just didn't understand the concepts in the least. At all.  I know NOTHING."  As it turned out, knowing "nothing" about something simply meant he couldn't write a 1,000 page study on that topic but could, however, get a B on the test.  

Apply this way of thinking to life -- that you are an imbecile for not knowing your tire would spontaneously blow out -- and you have yourself the perfect recipe for mental insanity.  Yes, you creeton, you should have understood life enough to know that a speck of ketchup was just waiting to jump on your white dress shirt, you careless buffoon.  You know nothing.  You thought you could plan out your day, you thought you could impact the world, you thought you could finish reading that article?  Well, you didn't and it is obviously because you do not understand how life should work, and anything you don't understand is your fault, so try a little harder and learn a little more and get an A+  in life already.  Is this the voice inside your head?  Please read a story.

In books -- inside the hundreds of pages of a well-written story -- we find the timeline, in whole or in part, of a person's life.  We can read how Anne Shirley, a skinny little nobody of a red-head, is anything but a nobody.  We learn how Benjamin Bunny ignores his mother's instructions for the sake of adventure but, oh Benjamin Bunny, that is not the adventure you had in mind.  We explore the peculiar behaviors of Winnie the Pooh and all his friends, and join their grand adventures (and we might even have extensive conversations with our own Pooh stuffed animal, begging him to talk).  We can identify with the stubborn nature of Elizabeth Bennett, scoff at Lydia and Kitty's foolishness, secretly adore the meddlesome Mrs. Bennett, and nobody knows it.  We are free to assess the lives and characters of these people with no strings attached.  We can read as a fly on the wall or as Elizabeth Bennett herself.  We explore, think, and live in a way life would otherwise never allow us to explore, think, and live.  While we bury our heads in the sands of our own lives, we see the accomplishments, failures, outcomes, and consequences that the characters, whose own heads are so far buried in their own stories, cannot see.  We close the book with a higher understanding of our lives and a greater appreciation for a dreary day because that dreary day is just a speck of a thing to endure until we turn the next page into a new day where Mr. Darcy is confessing his love.  

Stories allow us to grow, imagine, and hope.  History is positively freckled with true stories that allow us to grow, imagine, and hope in the same way.  Life never looks as grand as it is until we make it a story; until we prove to ourselves how grand it is through the words we paint.  The sunny day with a picnic at the playground is not life finally made right, but rather a gift to enjoy and hold onto because when we turn the page to the next day, it could be filled with a tragedy for which only the sunshine could have prepared us.   

The small amount of fiction I have read (even as an English graduate) is appallingly embarrassing, but I think it's safe to say that I was shaped most by the stories I grew up reading.  If you have kids, show them the gift of stories.  If you want to teach the crazy voice in your head to be a sane voice of comfort, read any good story.  Learn from Noah, Moses, Ruth, Bloody Mary and Queen Elizabeth, Lucy Pevensie, Ramona Quimby, Montresor and Fortunato, Jane Eyre, Hulga Hopewell, Harry Potter, and Frodo Baggins.  Yes, that list turned out completely strange, but you get the idea: read a story.  

Stories open our eyes to possibilities and write ambition into our bones.  Stories help us make sense of the bleak and find hope in failures.  Stories help us rejoice when we are served our favorite dessert or get a new car. Stories are how I awake to a day burdened with the mundane, but suddenly see its meaning in the sunshine behind my daughter's blue eyes.

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