The Internet is filled with uplifting stories. There are tales of people separated by war who are reunited decades later; an injured and disoriented fighter pilot escorted to his home base by an enemy pilot; a man of little means who helps another only to have that kindness returned ten-fold.
And in the comments section of nearly every one of these and similar stories are posts where the cynic says things like “that didn’t really happen,” or “I’ve read this before except the characters had different names and it supposedly happened in a different time.” Even the ones for whom the story is a feel-good experience say things like “I sure hope this story is true.”
My question is “WHO CARES?” In most of these stories, the narrative serves to deliver a message. That is the point, not whether the minute details of the story are ‘true.’
In Days Gone By
For those of us old enough to remember, and maybe some of more recent generations, I think of the story of the Three Little Pigs. As the story goes, three little pigs built houses. One hurriedly built his house of straw. Within a short time, a bad wolf blew the house down and ate the pig. The second built his house of wood. Certainly that would take a little more time and effort on the pig’s part, but in the end, the wolf was able to blow that house down too, and ate the second pig.
The third pig worked diligently, while his brothers rushed to finish their houses so they could play. The third pig built his house of brick. His efforts were rewarded when the wolf was unable to blow his house down and thus his life was spared.
Hearing this story as a child, it never once occurred to me to sneer, “That didn’t really happen! How could a pig build a house? And how can a wolf blow that much air. Wolves don’t have very big lungs and they can’t form a circle with their mouths. Obviously, this story is a lie!!”
No, I never said any of those things. Nor do I ever remember even thinking them, because I, through my human gift of imagination, could easily translate the story to a message that hard work pays off. “Got it, Dad. Thanks for putting the lesson into an enjoyable story, a story that demonstrates the virtue of hard work and dedication.” Enough said.
There are many things in today’s world that are all too ‘real’ and ‘true.’ We should allow ourselves to enjoy a heart-warming story, and maybe even learn a little about a virtue from that story, without grumbling about whether every word (or any of them) are ‘true.’
As writers, we rely heavily on our imagination. We hope the world of people who might become our readers hasn’t lost theirs.
RELATED: A story in the New York Times on the day this post was published reflects a similar attitude by critics of the movie “Sully”, about the emergency landing of US Air Flight 1549 in the Hudson River.