When I think of why storytelling is so important I believe it’s because it has transformative powers. When we fall into the world of a truly fine tale, we’re often not the same when we come out the other end. We’re changed, I think, for the better. We’ve moved around in the skin of people who’ve often had dramatic things happen to them, but have also often persevered and are changed by the events in their lives. We’ve lived with them through those changes.
And we can relate.
Storytelling, as is so often said, about conflict and change. As it is with our lives. Conflict inevitably comes and with it change; sometimes for the better, sometimes, not so much. But from the time Odysseus battled and journeyed to make his way home all the way to Katniss Everhard trying to save her family and friends through the brutality of the Hunger Games, we’re transported – and transformed – by the journey of the story.
Two examples come to mind. Ironically both true, which doesn’t take away from the story of their lives. The first is about a young man named Mephibosheth, told in 2nd Samuel. Mephibosheth was the son of Jonathan, who was the son of the first king of Israel, Saul. Jonathan and David, who later become king (after he slayed an arrogant giant) were best friends. In fact, when Jonathan died, David vowed to make sure any of his family members would be taken care of. As a young child Mephibosheth was accidentally dropped and became disabled. He was made fun of and often had to fend for himself. Mephibosheth came to the attention of David (now King) when David asked if there was anyone left in the house of Saul who he could show kindness to for Jonathan’s sake. David was told a son of Jonathan lived, but was lame in both feet. David had him found and called him forth. Appearing before the king Mephibosheth’s words, and David’s are telling:
“What is your servant, that you should notice a dead dog like me?”
“Don’t be afraid,” David said to him, “for I will surely show you kindness for the sake of your father Jonathan. I will restore to you all the land that belonged to your grandfather Saul, and you will always eat at my table.”
A king welcoming the least of us to his table. Reminds me of another story.
Mephibosheth was transformed by David’s unmerited favor. And in some ways, so are we when we read their story.
The second example is John Merrick. You may know him as the Elephant Man. A man who knew cruelty and pain – emotional and physical – as few of us could ever know, but who managed to keep burning within him a heart of hope that transformed the lives around him. He came to be friends with a doctor named Frederick Treves and both of their lives were forever altered by the friendship. He also became a favorite of London society after a particular well-known actress befriended him and was charmed and bowled over by his knowledge of literature, plays and poetry. He only lived 27 years, most of that in orphanages and in circuses who severely abused him. But his last years were lived in a hospital where he was protected and cared for. John Merrick thought he’d found heaven in the people that embraced him. What he never fully realized is that his life, and his child-like heart that continued to hope – regardless of circumstances – transformed most everyone who came to know him.
May we be transformed like Mephibosheth and John Merrick, thankful and doused in wonder by the story before us.