All Stories Are True; Some Even Happened

The child curls into your lap and plead, “Tell me a story.” It’s a request that echoes down the centuries from children to tribes to nations alike. We all need stories in our lives. Tales that can make us feel good, feel proud, feel there’s a purpose to us.

Hunter-fathers and village-shamans were skilled at this. So were the firey-eyed prophets who came out of the deserts, along with the rich imaginations of a Homer, a Dante, and a Dickens. I remember my top sergeant recalling tales of his years fighting under Patton in WWII; perhaps the only thing I ever learned in the Air Force that made any sense out of killing.

Not every story is true, if by true we mean precisely accurate fact by fact. But then neither were the stories of the parables taught by Jesus nor all the news reports of the West by Mark Twain. Still, is there any heart that can honestly dismiss these as lies? As mis-information? As events that could not be?

When enough of these stories collect, they become all sorts of realities in the lives of their listeners. Some, religions like Judaism and Christianity. Others, philosophies like Stoicism or Existentialism. Still others take on the mythic proportions of legends such as the Greek or Norse Gods, King Arthur of ancient England or the Teutonic Knights of ancient Germany, right down to the Kit Carsons and Jesse James of the American West still played out on our screens by the John Waynes and Clint Eastwoods.

Screens…?

Yes, the great oral and written traditions of humanity’s stories have now emerged most completely in the cinematic format of the movie and of television. Today’s stories — no less indispensable to our emotional lives than ever — now come to us by way of our cameras. Film is perhaps the ultimate art form for telling us stories, for in it are all the art forms of sight and sound majestically woven together.

What was once a 10-cent Saturday treat at the local movie house has now been elevated into the most powerful persuasions in our lives. So when a Spielberg tells us of ETs, a Scorsese tells us of our society’s under-cultures, a Spike Lee reports the culture in Black, or an Oliver Stone uses his cameras to make a searing political point…when artists like these fill our screens with stories, they are thereby filling our heads and hears with messages virtually impossible to forget.

No storytellers in history ever had it so good. No listeners in history ever had it so hard to decide which stories are true…

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