A hymn I enjoy begins with the words, “It only takes a spark, to get a fire going, And soon all those around, can warm up in it’s glowing.” The song refers to God’s love, which is obviously more important and more powerful than fictional stories. However, I’ve been reminded recently of the lasting impact a story can have.
Returning to books I enjoyed as a young reader often shows me how various stories shaped who I am today (stay tuned for a post about ways A Little Princess inspired me). For example, a few months ago I re-read The Hundred Dresses. As I read, I realized it was this story that sparked my determination to introduce myself to each new person at my homeschool group. I never wanted anyone to feel the way the Polish girl in the story did, and I never wanted to regret not being friendly to someone the way the narrator did.
While the phrase “show, don’t tell” can be a writer’s bane, it is the essence of impactful fiction. Stories are amazing because a well crafted tale allows readers to absorb important lessons without anyone telling them what they’re supposed to learn. The Hundred Dresses didn’t tell me, “Don’t let peer pressure cause you to be unkind.” Instead, it made me feel sympathetic. It pulled me into the loneliness of a girl who didn’t fit in, and the struggle of a girl afraid to share her fate. After reading it, no one had to tell me, “Befriend new people, lonely people, people of different cultures, and outcasts.” Instead, I spent hours daydreaming ways I would have made friends with the girl in the story. I imagined what I would say to her and mentally acted out our conversations. I crafted the words I would use to tell the mean girls how wrong they were.
Today, there are few things I enjoy more than making friends with people of different cultures. My existing friends laugh at how predictable I am when I meet someone who speaks Spanish as their first language, because it rarely takes long for me to strike the bargain, “I’ll help you with English if you help me improve my Spanish!” I love listening to my Indian friends tell me of love found through arranged marriage. Trying the food and clothing of different cultures is a special excitement. When a new “girl” (or woman) shows up at church, I do my best to introduce myself and make her feel welcome.
Some of these traits are part of my personality and upbringing. However, I know that reading The Hundred Dresses many years ago triggered a lot of these habits that shape who I am as adult. What I didn’t realize was that the affect of the story reached beyond myself.
Last week, my family went to a special annual event done by our old homeschool group. We enjoyed catching up with old friends and seeing how much the “little kids” have grown up. After the performances, one of the moms and I were talking, and she took a moment to introduce me to a newcomer . Her introduction was, “This is Leah. She was the first person to introduce herself to me and the kids when we started coming here.” When the other person left, the mom turned back to me and said, “Your introduction made such an impact on me. Now, when there are new families, I have my children go and introduce themselves.”
You never know how your actions will impact other people, or how long lasting the impact will be.
I think it is incredible to look back and pinpoint the small things that sparked bigger things and follow how those things have grown over the years. As a lover of books, it’s especially neat to see how often stories are responsible for inspiring practical things in real life. Fiction–good fiction–is not a waste of time. It inspires and challenges us.
It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word
And then that word grew louder and louder…
—The Call, from Prince Caspian
What legacy has fiction left in your life? What practical actions have stories inspired you to take? How have books shaped the person you are today?