Wednesday, March 24, 2010
LIFE LESSONS LEARNED THROUGH STORIES
In 8th grade I was selected to attend a one-hour-a-week class for Language Arts Enrichment. The teacher was a really "cool" fellow who seemed to enjoy that hour as much as we did. Our lessons were rather unconventional for the day. We didn't read books to discuss literary devices. Sometimes we didn't read books at all, opting instead to watch a movie. You see, our teacher's goal wasn't to have us analyze the structure and form of literature. He was helping us recognize authors' powerful messages woven through good writing in all its forms.
During those hours I first considered the personal, human value of the written word and its power to motivate and educate. The first lesson came through the talent of a screen writer, the creator of the Disney movie, "Those Calloways." The Calloway family had an idealist at its head who was trying to create a preserve for geese. It seemed that everyone fought against Mr. Calloway until the end of the film, when the man and his family had lost nearly everything. It was then that the townspeople rallied to his aid.
I remember the teacher stopping the film and asking the question, "Why are they helping him now?" We offered a variety of thoughtful answers for our tender age, and after we had weighed in, our guide to literature's deeper tutorials provided one of my greatest life lessons--"Men (or women) are content when others have equal or less than they. They will try to tear down those who they think have more, and to those who hit bottom, to those who have nothing, they will offer a hand of help."
I remember that class of 8th-graders sitting silently as we contemplated that thought. I left that classroom determined to measure the veracity of that phrase against the yardstick of experience, and to my great dismay, though not always, it dd prove true time and time again.
Some of the greatest lessons I've ever learned, and most of the lessons that come quickly to mind, have come to me either through my own hard knocks, or through the experiences of others, fictional or non-fictional, as they were written down in books, poems, or screenplays.
From "Old Yeller" I learned about great love and sacrifice. From "The Diary of Anne Frank" I learned the the dual truths--the power of humanity and inhumanity. The Old Man and the Sea, Great Expectations, Sarah Plain and Tall . . . On and on the lessons racked up until I thought I understood life fairly well, and then came marriage and motherhood, and I needed a new skill set.
One of the most valuable lessons of all times came to me through a poem by Carol Lynn Pearson titled "Millie's Mother's Red Dress," the story of wife and mother who asked nothing for herself, took the scraps of life, and lived life as a servant, a door mat, because she believed that's what loving required of her. Near the end of her life her daughter Millie finds a beautiful red dress hanging in her closet. Purchased on a whim, never worn, it was the symbol of the life the woman would have loved to have lived--a representation of a part of her her family never was allowed to know. Instead, because she acted as if she wanted nothing, she was viewed as needing nothing. In time, her sons came to believe this thinking was correct for all women, and her daughter and daughters-in-law became prisoners to the example she had set. Near the end of the woman's life, as she sat with her weary, beleaguered daughter, the woman tells Millie not to make the same mistake. I have shared that story more times than any other single story I have ever read.
I love the timeless power of the scriptures and the all-encompassing experiences of their subjects to teach, to lift, to challenge. It should not be surprising that God who created us all. knows mankind and all our weaknesses and strengths. The scriptures are a masters course in humanity. I have never dipped into that well and come back wanting. And more times than not, passages reread inspire entirely new thoughts and lessons.
I hope I never underestimate the power of words. We must be careful and respect their power as we speak and write, because once unleashed, they can never be recalled. Their influence, for good or evil, is profound and truly mightier than swords or armies. I think the greatest honor a writer could be paid would be to have someone say that the pages they wrote had produced a moment of inspiration, a thought never before considered, a lesson learned anew, a truth that propelled them to good action. That would be a wonderful reward indeed.
We all have stories that have touched our lives, served as a powerful teaching tool. What's yours?