When I was in seventh grade I checked out S.E. Hinton’s book, The Outsiders from my school library. I don’t remember a time in life when I wasn’t an avid reader, but this was the first book where I remember feeling like the characters were real. And potential friends. I wanted so badly to go visit with Ponyboy, Darry, and Sodapop and find out how they were doing after all of the events of the book. I distinctly remember walking in downtown Jonesborough with my parents for the July 4th celebration and thinking, “If I see a Greaser, I will be their friend. I will not treat them badly just because they are poor.” Much to my chagrin, I didn’t end up running into any Greasers or Socs that night, because it turns out Jonesborough didn’t really have any Greasers or Socs and it wasn’t 1965. Also, seventh grade me would have been a good friend, but pretty useless in a rumble. Adult me would as well.
I still get really wrapped up in books and sometimes forget that the characters aren’t real and that I don’t actually know them. A few years ago I was reading a book about a girl named Josie who was in a really precarious situation. I had been reading for most of the night, but had to stop since I had work the next morning. As I was lying in bed, waiting to fall asleep, I was sincerely worried about Josie and her situation and I prayed for the Lord to protect her and give her wisdom. I hate to admit that it took a minute for me to realize that I had just prayed for a fictional character. I will add that I found out the next afternoon that the Lord did answer my prayer.
If listening to a lecture or a sermon for an extended period of time, my mind starts to wander. The second the speaker throws in a story, I’m attentive. I frequently listen to two story based podcasts called, “The Moth Radio Hour” and “This American Life.” I can’t get enough of listening to personal stories.
I think that’s why I liked college so much. I went to a very small school in a town that was four hours from a movie theater or even a Wal-Mart. When we weren’t in class, we sat around in the lounge and shared stories. After lunch and dinner we often stayed in the Cache for a few hours and talked. If we couldn’t stand the thought of salmon quiche for dinner, we would walk to the local diner, grab a burger….and talk.
It was the same at camp. I remember countless nights of sitting in the gazebo after canteen time and just sharing stories of life until it was time for chapel to start. We talked while washing dishes and cleaning toilets and belaying kids on the ropes course elements. We shared our lives through our words and experiences. You can learn so much about a person through the stories that they share.
Stories also breed empathy. I don’t know how, but I know it’s true. My students will get so riled up over the way a character is being treated. I’ll point how ways that they treat their classmates the same as the characters in the book. I can see that truth taking root based on the looks on their faces.
Stories are also like spotlights on our hearts; lighting up the dark corners that we struggle to see clearly. I think of King David, who thought he had gotten away with his affair with Bathsheba. Then Nathan the prophet told David a story about a rich man who took a poor man’s pet sheep and cooked it up for his guests. David was outraged at the story and demanded justice. Nathan pointed out that David was, in fact, that rich man. That story helped lead David to repentance.
So I think that’s what I appreciate about stories. There is always a chance to learn something- either about myself, or someone else, or a situation with which I’m familiar, or I’m moved to some sort of action. I like that stories have the power to change lives and give new perspectives.
Right now I’m reading a book about a girl named Eleanor. I know she has had something awful happen in her life, but I don’t know what it is just yet. I sense that she is about to have her heart shattered and I want so badly to find a way into that book, into her life, and help her out by either warning her or being there to walk through the pain with her. But she’s not real and I don’t live in a movie, so I guess that’s not going to happen. I have high hopes that I’m going to learn a few things though.