My 30-year-old son found out yesterday he probably has cancer, had surgery this morning, and while I was talking with him in the recovery room, he mentioned staying up very late the night before. He wasn’t worrying, he was writing.
It seems he once read a book where a dying father with many young children wrote them each a letter for them to receive on their birthdays the year after his death. My son had tucked this away in his mind, just in case he should ever find himself in that situation.
Of course, I hope my son’s children never have to receive these letters after their father’s death, but this incident reminded me of the power stories have in our children’s lives. When a child’s heart has been richly furnished with tales of love and loss, ordeal and overcoming, that child is being well prepared for the unknowns of life.
How often, in my own difficulties, have I admonished myself when on the brink of despair, “Now, what would Caroline Ingalls do?” … Or Marmee March, Mary Emma Moody, Marilla Cuthbert—or, for that matter, Anne of Green Gables herself. Living in the lives of fictional characters instructs. Our heroes and heroines don’t exist because their lives are free of rocks, snares, toils and dangers. They are our heroes precisely because they have faced the unthinkable or impossible and found a way through, around, under, or over those impediments. We live inside their skin, feel their pain and bewilderment, will them on to meet their messy and miserable circumstances. Their fortitude and tenacity inspire us. We close the book, put it back on the shelf, and possibly never return to its pages again, but the lessons stick, the pictures hang in the galleries of our imagination, and when life deals us unexpected twists and turns, we have a wealth of inherited advice, so deeply embedded we usually forget who we learned the lessons from.
What would we do without the tales that have told us how to live? What will our children do if we don’t provide them with a bountiful supply of heroes to grow on? It doesn’t matter if those teachers come from the pages of the Bible or fairytales, from nonfiction or fiction. Truth is our light for life wherever we read it. Wisdom is the fruit of a story-strewn childhood.
P.S. In our ordinary nonfiction lives, there are unexpected happy endings. Though the doctors were 90% sure, the final verdict was “no cancer.” No parting messages will be distributed to my grandchildren in the coming year.
“And they all lived happily ever after.”