Sunday, October 08, 2006

How can stories can save your life?

In my school library I put different quotes related to reading and books on shelfmarkers, hoping the kids will stop to read and think as they browse. Late Friday afternoon a 5th grade girl caught me as I was rushing from one task to another and said, "Did you make those shelfmarkers?" "Yes," I said and started to move away. "But, what about this one that says 'Stories can save your life'?" she continued, "How can that be true?" I stopped. My brain was really on something else and I searched for the simplest answer. "Well, of course they can. Maybe you read a novel about survival and you learn something that later helps you survive. And think of all the non-fiction books that have important information in them." The look on her face told me she wasn't completely convinced, but I moved on, even though I knew I hadn't handled the moment well at all.

Then today I happened to read Judith Ridge's article in the March 2006 issue of the Horn Book on the books of Boori Monti Pryor, an Aboriginal, and his white partner, Meme McDonald, in which the power of that quote in the context of Aboriginal storytelling was addressed.
It’s a fascinating concept of story — that what is most powerful lies in what cannot be said. The experience made Meme realize that “stories are our lifeblood — they instruct us how to live and how to be and what visions to hold true. They’re fundamental to the happiness of our lives, so they’re very precious. So in that sense, I think if you start to regard stories as an absolute essential of life, rather than a distraction from life, then how you evolve them and in what context, what respect you have for the source of that story, becomes very important whatever culture you come from.”

The point of all of this, of course, is that this new — or, rather, most ancient — way of creating stories isn’t just an issue for Aboriginal people. In fact, it’s not even just about story — it’s about life and culture and creating a society based on principles of respect and collaboration.

As for the quote, "Stories can save your life", one frequently cited source for it is Tim O'Brien's book "The Things They Carried", though of course Sharhazad in "1001 Arabian Nights" is the best example, as Susan Fletcher discusses on her website in connection with her book "Shadow Spinner".

I can't wait to get back to school and find that girl again. I need to talk to her...

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