What’s the story that really gets you? Strip away the subplots and heady symbolism. Chuck the adverbs, too. What’s the story that spreads the balm over your fresh wound, or your old scars? And what’s the story that punches you where it hurts most?
Sometimes it’s the one you used to ask for over and over. Sometimes it’s family lore, embedded in the warmth of comforting arms. Or the smell of fresh-baked ginger-snaps. Or the sound of your mother’s skirt rustling as she left your room.
And sometimes, it’s the one that gave you nightmares.
Teachers understand the power of story. Nobody likes to sit through a lecture. But tell a story, and you draw kids to your corner like metal to magnet. Former students still remind me of the stories I told them. Stories “stick” when the lecture notes are faded. Or shredded.
Parents get it, too. In my family, washing hair was a battle until I came up with a story about a girl named Alice who never let her mother wash her hair. It became a bath-time litany. She got bugs. She got birds. The whole Bronx zoo migrated onto her scalp. Alice became a legend, and the kids’ hair remained clean until they were old enough to care about it on their own.
Grandparents are natural story-tellers. You can’t put a muzzle on us, so just go with it. When no one can get my grandson to eat, I sit down next to him. “Once upon a time,” I say, and his eyes glaze over as he opens his mouth. His food is done before the story is. It even works on Skype.
The story that gets you is the one that really, deep in its core, is about you, whether you realize it or not. Jesus taught with stories. His content reflected familiar cultural images, but with a twist. A good Samaritan (an oxymoron to Jesus’ listeners, who didn’t like them) helps an injured man, while the priests pass him by. A shepherd leaves ninety-nine sheep unattended to rescue the lost one.
Jesus’ stories had simple conflicts with clear resolutions, but the audience response was dramatic. Sometimes the Teacher drew them to his corner. A rich young ruler responded, “What must I do to be saved?” The story was really about him, and he knew it. Another time, listeners tried to arrest Jesus for telling a story, for the same reason. Either way, Jesus’ stories got to them, just like the stories that get to you today.
Stories arouse emotion. Joy. Fear. Hope. Anger. They make our hearts beat faster. They make us question our morals, our motives, our leaders, our convictions. A well-told story lodges deep in our core. Sometimes it irritates, like the grain of sand in an oyster. But you know how that one ends.
Jesus was unafraid of controversy. He knew the story that endures is the one that becomes a pearl. And he knew how pearls are formed.
Tell your story. Rock your listeners to the core, and change their hearts. As story-tellers, that’s our mandate. As readers, our mandate is to pass it on. Through the ages, across the oceans, to everyone who will hear.
In that light, I’ll end this post as it began: What’s the story that really gets you?