We All Need a Good Story

Sami - San Francisco, California
Entered on December 27, 2005
Age Group: 30 - 50
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As a member of Generation X, I spent much of my formative years under the tutelage of that bogeyman of high culture: TV. I’d bus home from school, scarf down some sugary or greasy snack, and devotedly plant myself on the couch for my daily episode of “Little House on the Prairie.” Now, being a shy awkward immigrant kid of Pakistani parents, I was probably not the target demographic for that show, yet I found myself relating to Laura Ingalls Wilder and her frontier family in a deeply empathic way. Despite our surface differences (they were white Christian nineteenth century settlers living in the Midwest, while my family was brown, Muslim and living in a suburb of Houston, Texas, in the 1980s), much of the lessons I learned about life came from the circumstances of the Wilders’ simple and loving lives.

I learned that the poor are often much more rich in spirit than the materially wealthy. I learned that hard work and sacrifice strengthen character while too much comfort and ease leave you amorphous and half-alive. I learned that love is helping your neighbor when you could help yourself instead, caring for a hurt sibling even though she has hurt you, taking the blame for someone else, standing up for injustice when others want you to stay put, and giving of your spirit as freely as water flows down a stream. I learned that true goodness and virtue have nothing to do with sanctimony or showiness. The Ingalls always tried to do the right thing, knowing they were imperfect, and I sat with them happily at the dinner table every evening as part of the family.

Now, you might think it silly or ironic that my early moral education came from a Hollywood TV drama instead of, say, the Bible, the Quran, or some other socially acceptable repository of wisdom (my parents, of course, contributed to my beliefs, but not in the same focused mythical way). At the age of 34, my life experience is still too short to state my beliefs with much authority, but I do believe this: we all need a good story, especially as children during our formative years. No matter where that story comes from, if it can ignite in us that spark of recognition that motivates us to live compassionate and joyous lives, it’s a good thing. When our guiding stories cause us to hate and oppress each other in both small and large ways, things fall apart.

As for me, I don’t know how my own story will end, but if it’s on a sunny meadow running through bright yellow fields of flowers with Laura Ingalls and a happy loving dog at my side, it wouldn’t be too shabby.