On Wednesday, April 3rd, right in the middle of what sometimes are the “Perils of Publication Week,” I was blessed to speak to the members of the Mayor’s Youth Commission. We met at Leak City, and had pizza for lunch.
My topic was “The Pen Is Mightier Than The Sword,” and anyone who knows me knows that I was, when I was a full time educator, a real stickler when it came to being able to communicate well, both in writing and speaking the English language. (Notice I said “well,” not “perfectly,” as Lord knows, despite our best team efforts, “goobers” sometimes end up in Athens Now and I have to be embarrassed for two weeks until the next edition comes out and the same thing could happen all over again…)
I found that there were kids in the room that had never met each other, and so I gave them an “ice breaker” assignment: Go to someone you have never met, introduce yourself, get their name, tell “your person” the title of your favorite story, allow them to do the same, and then stand and tell what you learned.
The results were, as to be expected, widely varied and in many ways refreshing. There were several whose favorite story was The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. “Good!” I thought to myself. Someone somewhere is still insisting upon some exposure to American lit. I expected some references to Twilight and The Hunger Games, and sure enough, there were a few. But there were stories which surprised me, for completely different reasons.
There were several die hard Dr. Suess fans, including our Mayor, who routinely puts on his striped Cat In The Hat hat and goes and reads to kids. Any parent knows that Dr. Suess is one of the best ways to teach life lessons to kids and make them laugh while they are at it. And then, to my shock I found that “my person’s” favorite story was Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World. “Ooooh, creepy,” I said to him with a smile, and if I had these kids on a regular basis I would have had him tell me why. Mine is To Kill A Mockingbird.
I asked them to think of stories that had changed the world for good. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was one, and a story that definitely changed the world for the bad was Adolph Hitler’s Mein Kampf. What a relief that kids that are going to graduate from Athens High actually know who Adolph Hitler was, and what his book was about! I think I am going to be able to rest easier at night. It was also a comfort to have them conclude that the Bible was the most important book ever written, and had done the most good.
Then we talked about The Diary Of Ann Frank, the unlikely way in which it went from a post WWII monster hit to a modern classic, and how it has affected the lives of kids generations later through the book and film Freedom Writers.
But what was it that I wanted them to conclude more than anything? That their story mattered, and they needed to write it well through the choices they made. And, if I may say the same to you, dear reader, your story matters. You may not write an earth shaking novel, you may not think that there is anything in your story that could ever serve as a life lesson or a source of comfort or inspiration for someone else, but you are wrong.
Just this week, as I was interviewing the Sanders for the Celebrate Recovery article, two things were said to me that changed my life. They weren’t original with them, but they struck me nonetheless. The first was, that really the only way to introduce oneself with validity was to be able to say, “Hi, I am so and so, and I am a grateful believer.” The second was to realize that the only way I can define myself with any credibility or stability is to say, “I am His child, and I am loved.” All other identities and relationships are tenuous. It took someone an enormous amount of pain to make that true in our lives, and our story blended with His story equals HISTORY. So let’s tell it well, and let’s finish well. It’s a job no one else can do.
By: Ali Elizabeth Turner