If you’re a story addict like me, you may have spent a good chuck of your life either reading, watching, or listening to stories. For me, stories have such a spellbinding quality because they give me hope. Stories of courage, strength, and perseverance give me hope that so much is possible if we just put forth the effort. Bible stories give me hope that I can be forgiven for the evil I have done, and that there’s good beyond the suffering of this world. They also give me the courage to forgive others and to love them, because they too can be redeemed.
Survival stories help me consider my own mortality and what I would be willing to do in the face of death — would I go willingly, or would I fight? If a zombie apocalypse ever descends upon the American Midwest, I am mentally prepared for what I would need to do to survive (however many minutes that might be) thanks to The Walking Dead. The Hunger Games challenges me to consider how I would live in an oppressive, totalitarian society. Would I choose safety or fight for freedom? Would I have the courage to take another’s place if it meant my possible death?
Stories about heroes like The Avengers or Batman or Spiderman give us hope in the extraordinary, that there may be people walking among us who have amazing talents they can use to save and improve lives. In the real world, doctors, nurses, policemen, and paramedics don’t wear masks or capes, but they are heroes just the same and too frequently have to deal with the “Jokers” of this world. We relate to story heroes and sometimes wish we could be like them. Growing up I always imagined I would make a fantastic female Indiana Jones and help save the world from the evils the Nazis would continually unearth. I wanted to be Superman AND Lois Lane, faster than a speeding bullet and a savvy journalist.
With villains, it’s a little different. The best villains are often appealing, not necessarily for the bad that they do, but because they are willing to do whatever they want no matter the costs. Villains challenge us in ways the heroes do not. They have an edge or even a “coolness” we sometimes wish we had. And they often wear black leather. Why is it that we are so attracted to black leather? Villains also represent the evil in the world and in ourselves. The battle against those villains can give us hope that the fight for good is worth it. My favorite thing about Peter Pan and Captain Hook is that they are “worthy” opponents. Great villains are awesome in part because it takes so much effort and courage, both mentally and physically, to overcome them. The heroes who defeat them have been found worthy in some way. That’s hope. Hope for all of us, that our struggles in this life are not in vain. What’s the point in defeating an evil that isn’t really, well, evil?
I have to mention romantic stories. Yes, many are sappy, but almost all have an unflinching belief in true love. Who doesn’t want true love? Bella and Edward may be angsty and annoying at times, but they have epic true love. And sparkly skin. Sparkly skin and black leather, hmm… Okay, back on topic: Love is the ultimate hope in this world, for it can cover over so many sorrows, it can make us forget our hurts, and it can help us see the world in new ways. And it can help us reach our potential. Where would Westley be without Buttercup? If he hadn’t fallen for The Princess Bride, he would have stayed a farm boy instead of becoming a dread pirate, terrifying swordsman, and cunning wit.
If it were physically possible to jump into any of the stories that I so enjoy, I have the hope that I would be at my best self. I have hope that I would be able to see the best in humanity, that I would be the best family member, the best friend, the best worker, the best fighter…and then I think: Why can’t I be like that in real life? Why can’t I make those dreams of being a better person come true? With God’s help, I can, and it all starts with stories, with the “dreams we dare to dream.” Hope.
Hope is the thing with feathers
That perches in the soul,
And sings the tune without the words,
And never stops at all,
And sweetest in the gale is heard;
And sore must be the storm
That could abash the little bird
That kept so many warm.
I’ve heard it in the chillest land
And on the strangest sea;
Yet, never, in extremity,
It asked a crumb of me.
–poem by Emily Dickinson–