I am fascinated by stories. They can be in the form of a song, a book, or a movie. Maybe even a series if they suck me in enough— lately I don’t have much time for TV, so it has to be a pretty impressive series. Sometimes I’m fascinated by the words themselves. How some people can make something horrible seem so poetic somehow by choosing the perfect lyrical phrases to express themselves. Most times though,  it’s based on my mood— murder mystery, biography, southern women’s fiction. I’ve decided I’m most likely looking for stories of others that help me better understand my own story.

This has been a roller coaster of a year. So many things have happened, and so many emotions have been stirred up. I thought I was a pretty strong and level-headed person, but now I know I’m not really special. There is no bullet proof vest for emotions, and as much as I try not to feel them, there they are. For a few months I was reading about sorrow or loss. Then it was the distraction of a Joel C. Rosenberg series to distract myself with something exciting. Now the pandemic has hit, and I have this craving for apocalyptic or post-apocalyptic stories. Not anything too realistic— I have enough to worry about already. But just “strange enough.” 

That makes me sound like such a freak. I think most normal people would be distracting themselves with something uplifting. But here I sit, reading about Churchill in World War II, the flu pandemic of 1918, the last words of a dying neurosurgeon, and a Timothy Keller book about pain and suffering. Every once in a while, something about right-sided heart failure or acid-base balance sneaks in to stave off the brain rot, so I’m not a total failure at adulting I guess. 

My movie selection has been no better. The other night, San Andreas with Dwayne Johnson was on and I was glued to the TV. It has always been one of my favorites. I’ve also been leaning towards re-watching “The Day After Tomorrow,” “I Am Legend,” Jurassic Park (any of them— I’m an equal opportunity nerd), and “The Hunger Games” (and yes, I know the books are better. Maybe I’ll start those again too).

At first glance they appear unrelated, but in the ball of yarn that is my brain, all of them address a time when something we thought could never happen has actually happened, and now we don’t know what to do with the world we are left with. When I watch one of those kinds of movies, I find myself surprised to go outside and see that the sun is still shining, the birds are still chirping, and everyone is continuing to live as if they aren’t terrified of a prehistoric monster or some environmental disaster that threatens life as we know it. I get completely sucked into the events, so much so that I need a few minutes to re-establish equilibrium in the real world. 

My point is this: sometimes the value of a good story is underestimated. It can give you a much-needed distraction from the seriousness of your own problems. It can expand your viewpoint, maybe help you understand what other people are experiencing that is different from what you’ve had in your own life. In my opinion, that’s the major benefit of reading fiction. Some people think it’s as a waste of time, but can time really be wasted if it made you realize that you’re not the only one who has had bad experiences, or opens your eyes to what it must feel like to be in someone else’s shoes?

A good story can make you feel things— fear, empathy, joy, and yes, even an apocalyptic sense of foreboding. A great story can do all of these things with phrases so beautiful that you slow your pace of reading just to savor the words. A few of the ones I’ve read that fit THAT description are “Carry Me Like Water” by Benjamin Alire Saenz, “The Time Between” by Karen White, and “The Invention of Wings” by Sue Monk Kidd. 

Since we’re all stuck inside anyway, I think it’s a good time to get yourself a good book or movie, and get lost in someone else’s story. Maybe you’ll learn something,. Maybe you’ll understand someone else better. Or maybe you’ll just pass a few hours appreciating the subtle beauty of how words can become art. Either way, I think you’ll be better off than you would be staring out the window waiting on FedEx to deliver your impulse buys. What stories do you love?

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