This I Believe
I hear them all the time: around campfires, at sleepovers, and even occasionally in broad daylight, for no other reason than simply that they are extremely entertaining to listen to: tales of young, innocent, carefree people who find themselves at the mercy of merciless madmen, the forces of nature, or even the cold hand of fate itself. The stories are said to be true by whoever tells them, and up until a few years ago, I believed them. However, no matter how brutal, controversial, in-your-face, or downright terrifying these myths are, they each have, for me anyway, a cryptic message. A moral, if you will. What better way to prevent an unwanted action than by instilling such raw fear of the consequences into the young perpetrator’s mind? This is why I believe in the educational value of urban legends.
One story that was the bane of my peace of mind for many years as a child was one of my dad’s favorites: a young couple parks their car in the middle of the woods for a night of steamy romance, when they hear a noise from outside. The boy, in an attempt to prove his bravery, ventures out to investigate. To make a long story short, he is murdered by a mysterious being in the woods, and the girl is forever traumatized by experiencing his death. My father loved to tell me this story at night on camping trips, with a flashlight illuminating his face in just the right way to make him appear demonic, and he always managed to get me to end up sitting with my back to the woods, cautiously looking over my shoulder every so often to prove the nonexistence of the horrible creature I perceived to be breathing down my back. Looking back now, after years of English classes, I realize the cryptic warning contained in that story: A warning of the dangers of premarital sex. To this day, I don’t think a more effective way of protecting me from STD’s and other adverse affects of a premature love life could possibly exist. The mental image that would appear in my head (my own mutilated body hanging from a tree) would be enough in itself to make me seriously reconsider my actions.
As an avid fan of being voluntarily horrified to the point of wanting to curl up in a fetal position under my covers and pray for quick daylight, I sincerely appreciate the cleverness of the originators of such legends as this and many more. No better educational method exists than that of having the crap scared out of you. This I believe.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.