The Story Goes On by James Witmer

The Story Goes On by James Witmer

Why do we read sad stories, especially to children? James Witmer is a good dad with a good answer.  –S.D. “Sam” Smith, Story Warren

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Babe is a children’s novel about a pig who becomes a sheep dog. Pig. Sheep-pig! Despite this deeply philosophical foundation, it’s a funny, enjoyable tale.

In the last third of the book, there is a scene where wild dogs break in and worry the flock of sheep, killing an old ewe who was one of Babe’s dearest friends.

When we finished this sad chapter, I put the book down and looked at my five year old, who seemed to be choking back tears. “Are you sad?” I asked.

In a blink she had climbed onto my lap, wrapped her arms around my neck, and was sobbing so hard her little body shook.

It was a good moment to ask why we do this. Why do we read stories? Why do we read sad stories? Why do we do this to ourselves when there is already too much sadness in our lives?

This time I found the answer close by.

“Maa’s story is over,” I told her. “It’s always sad when a story ends. But Babe’s story isn’t over. He keeps living, and more things happen, and some of them are very good things.”

We kept reading. We used our imaginations to experience a truth about the world: Stories end, but The Story continues.

That’s something she will need to know when the stakes are higher. When she feels alone and adrift in the backwash of loss, she’ll need to believe that life goes on. Not just existence, but life. The story.

And in some way, when we near the end of our own stories, we all want The Story to go on without us. There must continue to be laughter, and hard work, and lovers uselessly mired in each others’ eyes, or why have we lived? It is the Great Story that gives ours meaning.

For a few moments on a Saturday afternoon, an old sheep and a silly pig, both imaginary, led my daughter and I snuffling into this dark truth, and back out into the sunlight.

She was belly-laughing not ten minutes later.