Stories, Life Lessons, & Crime
[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]
I never knew what I wanted to be, which is probably how I ended up being a writer. I grew up on a farm far from most things, and books were my primary source of entertainment. My parents never said no to books, so I always had things to read. I read through the entire selection of Goosebumps books at my elementary school. I read the Ramona series, Nancy Drew, Anne of Green Gables, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Sarah Dessen and Meg Cabot. I read the old, dusty books I found in our basement. For awhile in middle school, I read a new book every night, returning it the next day to the librarian who kindly suggested the next series for me to tackle. I loved the smell of books, the feel of books, the way I felt like I knew the characters by the time I finished. I loved being transported to different places. Maybe I liked the escape. Maybe I liked believing that my life could be different.
Stories are vital. They are how we understand life. And, they're everywhere. Companies tell consumers stories about their products or services. The way you dress tells a story. The way we argue is a story. The way we love is a story. The way we learn is through story. And sometimes, the way we hurt ourselves and others is a big, complicated, blurry story.
Remember King Midas who was so greedy that he wished for everything he touched to turn to gold? But he was a bit short-sighted and didn't realize that he couldn't touch his daughter. He eventually turned her into a solid, golden statue and learned that some things are more important than gold. This story is why we know money can't buy happiness. This story is why we know that family is more important than anything, and that most of us would or should choose love over riches.
Remember the story of the Velveteen Rabbit, who wanted to be loved by a boy, and who was loved so much that the rabbit became real? At the end of the story, the boy sees a rabbit that looks just like his beloved toy, and that makes him happy. This is a story about love; holding on and letting go. It's a story about growth, and the uncomfortable feelings that come along with it. This story is how we know that we can let people go and still love them; how we know that goodbyes don't have to be sad.
Remember the story of Bluebeard? He is a wealthy nobleman who gets married several times and all his wives mysteriously vanish. He courts three sisters, and the youngest, most naïve sister is charmed and agrees to marry him. He gives his new wife everything she asks for, but forbids her from going into a chamber in the basement of his castle, which is where he keeps the bodies of all his dead brides. Bluebeard is about to kill his new wife for disobeying him when her brothers step in and murder him. Bluebeard is a story about curiosity and breaking rules; about feminine empowerment and obedience. Bluebeard teaches us about choices: look behind the forbidden door to know the truth, or stay happily naïve.
All of these stories, (all stories), teach us lessons. Recently, the story of Kyle Rittenhouse has inundated media outlets. One story being told is that he shot three men and killed two at a protest out of self-defense. Another story being told is that he incited the violence in the first place, and should therefore be held accountable. The murky waters of this story have only muddied with time. Who should be believed is closely tied to who is able to speak, and in this case, Rittenhouse's victims don't have that opportunity. Another story being told is that the verdict would have been different if he wasn't a young white man, and that is probably true. Life is unfair. We are not equal. This is an ugly truth. Some stories are never heard, and others are amplified, which says less about the validity of the stories themselves, and more about those who chose to listen.
I fell in love with books because I fell in love with stories. I grew into a writer because I wanted to tell stories, too. But I want my stories to be good and true. I want them to teach important lessons. I want my stories to make people smile, or cry, or think about life in a new way. The saddest stories are the ones that end early. Each of Rittenhouse's victims had their stories cut short, and that's tragedy enough. The biggest tragedy though, is that his own story gets to continue growing. His book is far from over. We can only hope the remaining pages are filled with something, anything good.