The Stories We Change

Those who do not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.

– George Santayana

What’s your favorite story?

Why do you favor it?

Mine would involve Jesus and a lightsaber. C’mon. The Son of God. With a sword. A laser sword. So much justice…

If they ever make more, you can find a t-shirt of it here: http://www.threadless.com/product/311/employ-thy-force/tab,guys/style,shirt

I wants it.

Stories are important. They tell us what’s come before, what is, and predict what has yet to be. They take the wisdom and experiences of previous generations and deliver it in chewable form. They evoke emotions, entertain, enlighten, and encompass our hopes and fears.

That’s why we tell stories, to communicate hope. When we need encouragement, good leaders tell stories of others overcoming obstacles, letting us know we can anticipate resolution. Parents equip their children by telling stories. Many of us know the Three Little Pigs, not only because it’s a tale we tell again and again, but because the swine who built his house out of bricks survived. Despite his vulnerability, that remaining porker planned ahead, keeping out the dark, hairy, overwhelming situation hammering his front door. Sharing that story builds hope that we too can overcome the big, bad wolves of this world.

Do all stories provide hope? What about the tales of the child soldiers of Africa? Young boys forced to commit unspeakable acts of violence against other innocents. Where is justice? Why hasn’t Jesus shown up with his lightsaber, hacking limbs and taking names?

Death and disease and famine and horror ride across our land. We read the articles; we watch movies like Machine Gun Preacher and Blood Diamond. We know evil crouches outside our door. We watch horror movies to raise our pulses, reminding us we’re alive. When we stare at the face of real horror, we draw a shuddering breath and make a choice. We can lose courage, distract ourselves, or become vessels of hope. Even though it’s the end of the article or the credits roll or 100 more died in the Sudan, the story continues. As we encounter its narrative, we become part of the tale. I can despair, do nothing, or alleviate the suffering in Africa.

Nelson Mandela heard the stories of his fellow South Africans and wove himself into their tale, changing it. Even when locked away for 27 years, Mandela fought for the rights of his fellow men and women. He became the vessel of hope and led his people to a surprise twist no one expected: a free South Africa.

Some stories have no effect, good stories elicit an emotional response, but the best stories elicit action, pushing forward their own conclusions. You know when an author’s spinning a really good yarn, and you can’t put the book down, not wanting the story to end? The best ones never do. Former listeners become new characters, making their way through plot lines, providing arcs the original storyteller never expected.

How bad would Cinderella’s fairy tale have been if her godmother never showed up? Even without a magic wand, I can be the character that bippity-boppity-boos a tragedy to comedy, so I’ll research which organizations rescue boy solders in Africa and give my time and money to fill the holes with hope. I may not be Lightsaber Jesus, I may not even own a sword, but I can do the work he’d do, so if you smell singed hair or note new sandals when next we meet, you’ll know I’ve entered the tale.

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