I believe “The Sopranos” is the secret to a good marriage. I often tell people that the shared viewing of various HBO series is a cheap and painless alternative to marriage therapy. My husband and I have a sacred pact to only watch together; it is forbidden to skip ahead without the other. Then, we discuss. Over dinner, on a walk, in the car, in emails. We discuss the various relationships, friendships, plots, and betrayals that are played out each week and how we would do it differently, how one kind of betrayal is better or worse than the other, or what one character might have meant by that last remark before the credits. Is it that we don’t have anything better to discuss? Isn’t the world full of politics and issues? Shouldn’t we be talking about our children’s various needs and accomplishments? Or, couldn’t we just discuss the trials and betrayals of our neighbors and friends?
But I believe there is something valuable about engaging in a story. It allows the viewer or reader to express thoughts and make judgements without personal risk. It is gossiping if you discuss your friends’ marriage, but a lengthy debate about Tony and Carmela’s relationship is innocent fun. Stories allow us to project ourselves into situations where the stakes our not ours or into predicaments we will most likely never find ourselves in. By engaging in a story, we can take ourselves out of our own day to day ruts and discover what is human about someone we would otherwise look as “other.”
Teaching in my middle school classroom, I experience examples of the power of story time and again. This past year, after reading The Outsiders, a classic tale of teenage conflict and social class, I watched usually guarded teenagers share intimate details of their lives. After asking students why they thought some of the characters chose to commit crimes and go to jail, one student after another listed to release dates of loved ones in prison. They spoke quietly, and everyone listened. Most of these students had never spoken in class before, much less shared anything personal. But, because they engaged in a story about characters they understood, going down a path they knew well, the students were ready to discuss and reflect on the realities of their own lives.
I believe a good story resonates in us, shows us the common experience of being human, takes us out of our world and into another. A good story can keep a marriage going and open a seventh grader’s heart to the possibilities around him.
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