The Power of Fiction

Published May 20, 2016 by nruhwald

book-863418_1280Stories are powerful. I suspect that all writers who yearn to create more than entertainment believe this too.

I’ve found meaning in many stories, though I don’t know what the creators of these stories intended, and honestly I don’t really want to.

I’ve been thinking about one of them a lot lately, so I thought I’d share it with you.

A few years ago Apple decided to give everybody a free digital copy of Song’s of Innocence by U2. A lot of people were annoyed by this, but I wasn’t. Many of the songs spoke to me. I could probably write a blog post any of them, but one of my favorites is “The Troubles.”

That song hits me in the feels every time. Especially this part:

“Somebody stepped inside your soul
Somebody stepped inside your soul
Little by little they robbed and stole
Till someone else was in control

You think it’s easier
To put your finger on the trouble
When the trouble is you
And you think it’s easier
To know your own tricks
Well, it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do.”

(I often skip over quotes when I’m reading. If you do, that’s fine, but you might want to go back and read the lyrics when you’re finished reading this post. It’ll make more sense then.)

I find this song so meaningful because it reminds me of a friend of mine. He made a stupid mistake once. He was young, but that didn’t protect him from the consequences of his actions. He had a long road ahead to make it right. But he trusted the wrong people, eventually lost control of himself, and ultimately his mistake cost him his life. I haven’t told any of my friends or family about him, but I cried when he died.

My friend isn’t real. And by that I mean he is a fictional character and not a tangible human being. He is very real to me, and I did cry for him.

So I got emotional over a story, and a song reminds me of that story, and now I get a little choked up every time I hear it. So what?

These stories matter because my friend is not alone. We lose too many people this way. Too many people give over control of themselves “little by little” until it’s too late.

For instance, my city is currently suffering the consequences of a drug called fentanyl. It’s killed hundreds of people a year since it showed up. If this current year is anything like last year, a couple people have probably OD’d this week already. They probably weren’t bad people.

Addictions are insidious things. Perhaps someone starts with a low-grade drug. A little bad choice, the consequences of which would be slight if they left it at that. But they don’t. They progress to stronger and stronger forms. At some point other destructive habits form in order to conceal and feed the addiction. Then one day it’s too late.

Sometimes they pick the wrong drug the first time, and their one bad choice is the last choice they ever make.

I believe most, if not all, evil works this way. Not everyone dies from a slowly and innocuously growing pile of bad decisions. Sometimes people “just” lose their job, or “just” lose their marriage, or “just” end up in jail.

Too many people are getting caught in nightmares that grew so slowly they didn’t realize what was happening. Well, let’s be honest, they probably did. There are always warning signs. But it always seems so difficult to back out, and going deeper seems easier.

(It’s almost like people are being lured to destruction by intelligent, malevolent beings. Huh.)

I’ve seen this happen to other people, in milder forms to myself, over and over. I think I found my friend’s story so compelling because it reminded me of this.

Through fiction, we can find truth in the strangest of places. I’m not mentioning “my friend’s” name because I’m not sure about copyright issues, and chances are none of you will have heard of him. Though my friend’s story resembles no scenario that is possible in this world, I found truth in it. The stories we tell matter.

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