We Must Preserve Our Stories

My teenage son, Cameron, is reading The Scarlet Letter for his required summer reading. I am a fan of Nathaniel Hawthorne and enjoy delving into his novels and short stories. Because of his Puritan ancestry, his writing centers around the good and evil inherent in all men and how it measures against the puritanical social and moral values of that day.

Understandably, Cameron has not been thrilled about reading this novel. It delves into the psyche of the characters with very little action taking place in the plot. Nevertheless, he's trudging through it in order to complete the assignment. Yesterday, we had an in-depth discussion about the book. We talked about deep subjects that normally aren't discussed between a teenage son and his mother. Afterwards, Cameron said, "You know Mom, I'm enjoying this book more than I thought I would."

This experience was a powerful reminder that we need to rekindle an appreciation for literature amongst the younger generation. In our modern society, a poor diet of facts and figures is being fed to our children. The train of thought is for these children to simply memorize as much information as they possibly can and then regurgitate it on a standardized test that fulfills some esoteric benchmark.

Our children need to know how to think for themselves. They need to glean the truths and lofty ideals that will enlarge their understanding and make them want to reach for something higher. Literature can help bring an added dimension, that human element, giving life to mere facts and figures. I once heard it said this way:  We can talk about starving children in Africa until we're blue in the face. We can go over the facts and figures at great length, but in the end, it really means nothing to us. Contrast this approach to reading a novel about a starving child that is growing up in Africa. We began to feel that child's hunger, share his pain, understand his plight. We, through his experience, began to empathize with that child. We start to care. That empathy then turns our thoughts outward to others, and we begin to see the world in a new light. We get a small glimpse of our place in the world and how that we can begin to make a difference. That's the power of great literature.

Consider these oft-quoted words by Edward George Bulwer Lytton:

"Beneath the rule of men entirely great, the pen is mightier than the sword."

I love this quote by Peter Handke, Austrian novelist and playwright:

"If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood."

We must preserve our storytellers because it is our childhood that largely determines the manner of people we become.

As a Southerner, I was taught to value the stories of our ancestors, to value the stories of our own experiences, for those stories make us who we are.