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You know what’s interesting about all the great stories; the classics, the great moments of history? No one ever worries about giving away the ending. No one even bats an eyelid when you casually reference key plot points in the midst of a conversation about something else entirely. Cos everyone already knows – or thinks they know – these stories inside out.

Obviously this is only true for the universal stories and history of our culture, the inescapable stuff, the touchstones. I’m talking about the easter story. I’m talking about ‘our finest hour’; the second world war, or the civil rights movement. I’m talking about finding nemo.

I’m talking about all these stories that are so engrained on our collective consciences that we’ve entirely lost touch with them.

We’ve gotten so familiar with these tales that we’ve completely lost sight of the protagonists’ thoughts and feelings – we forget that they have a totally different perspective from us: We are viewing the story from a position of hindsight, all too easily from a position of judgement. They’re right in there living it, sweating it out.

We forget what its like to experience, afresh and in the moment, stories that have lost their power to shock us, scare us, surprise us, outrage us because they are so familiar to us. We forget what its like not to know whats gonna happen next.

I guess we lose out when we take the outcome of the story for granted cos we’ve heard the plot a million times, when in our familiarity we forget we’ve never felt the fear, tasted the blood, been overwhelmed by the surge of fight-or-flight adrenaline in these stories. Instead we sit in comfort. We see an overview. We know the ending.

We miss the sorrow, the darkness, the uncertainty and especially the pain of these stories cos we know how it all turns out in the end. We think its all about the ending and we forget that its not. Not for those living it, it isn’t. They haven’t got to the ending yet. And in our own stories, neither have we.

When we take these tales and try to see them from the protagonists’ (incomplete) points of view, our nice, neat ideas about them are shattered and in their place our empathy is engaged.

Take the examples i mentioned above: Are we still as moved by a father’s terror at his loss, are we still as gripped by his subsequent desperate search when we know the rescue mission is a success… And how many of us would stand next to the dissident leader when the riot police show up and he demands a non-violent response? And whilst the battle to liberate an enslaved people rages, does our attitude to the deserter change when we remember that they had no idea of the victory to come? And that’s just the easter story. Don’t even get me started on the other three.

Just because we know that Jesus was alright in the end and that Indy saved the world from the Nazis, and that Nemo’s Dad ended racial segregation in America, just because we know the facts, doesn’t mean we should lose sight of the characters, the courage, the fear, the uncertainty that takes place in the midst of a story. Because if we can meet these characters as they really are, if we can love and care about them, if we can dive straight in after them and find them right there in the midst of their stories, then they can teach us – despite the fear, despite the uncertainty, despite even the pain of it – they can inspire us to act courageously in the midst of ours.

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9 Comments

  1. The above was inspired by this post by the shiny headed prophet and this post by Kester Brewin (I think it was that one but i might be giving myself too much credit; if you get the chance to read the rest of the easter posts on Mr Brewin’s site – i’m thinking of Piss Christ and God is Dead. Good in particular – you’ll get some good illustrations of what i’m trying to get at here.)

  2. What a brilliant post! I loved the twisty, devious bit at the end. Puts my Easter offering firmly in the shade.

    Off to look at your cited sources now…

  3. Thanks mate. Having established which bit you were referring to, i contend it is not at all devious, but i’m glad it acheived the effect i was hoping for =]

    Still can’t work out how to make the last paragraph there less clunky. Oh well. What did you think of the stuff i referenced?

  4. Any post which references Finding Nemo, MLK, BttF and Indy in the same breath is bound to be all right by me (so long as the rest is well written and has a valid point to make).

    Let me know what you think of my re-draft.

  5. Any post which references Finding Nemo, MLK, BttF and Indy in the same breath is bound to be all right by me (so long as the rest is well written and has a valid point to make).

    I loved the blogs you linked to as well. If I’m not careful, I could get lost in cyberland for the rest of time just following links – “Oh, that looks interesting…!”

  6. Excuse the double post there – at lunchtime, WordPress ate my comment, now, when I repost with additional content, it vomits it out all over my shoes and makes me look stupid.

    How rude.

  7. Timbo makes some valid points (twice 😉 ). Also, this post, I feel, is beautiful. (And I liked that bit about Nemo’s dad at the end.) Thanks for the thoughts.

  8. We like you Jenn; you can stay =]

  9. Oh excellent. That IS good news. 😉


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