Monday, August 22, 2016

Living the Tales Told (Ps. 90:9)

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 fairy tales, from nonfiction or fiction. Truth is our light for life wherever we read it. Wisdom is the fruit of a story-strewn childhood.

For the Joy of Reading,


P.S. “And they all lived happily ever after,” is not just for fairy tales. My son called the next day to tell me that the doctors’ best opinions were wrong and there is no cancer. Who says amazing twists don’t happen in real life?


  1. Yes, hallelujah.

    This gave me insight to Wendell Berry's poem

    t may be that when we no longer know what to do
    we have come our real work,

    and that when we no longer know which way to go
    we have come to our real journey.

    The mind that is not baffled is not employed.

    The impeded stream is the one that sings.
    Wendell Berry

  2. Oh, thank the Lord!!! This is a lovely thought within a post...that the characters that we love, can "come along" so to speak with us during storms of life. Thanks, Liz.