Stories Will Save Our Souls, Part 2: Books Teach Us to Be Human

February 5, 2018 by

There are few things in this world more sacred and life-preserving than books. I believe that stories can indeed save our souls, and in this series I will explain why it is important to share them with others, especially children. Countless people have told me that being read to by a parent or friend was one of their happiest childhood memories. Every child deserves happiness, so what are the details of making this work in reality?

Stories open up an imaginative world unparalleled by any digital medium, and have the ability to teach moral values, ward off evil vices, and ultimately carry an element of humanity this real world cannot match. This blog post is part 2 in a series and takes us back two decades:

The “Round Table” is a happy place. Sometimes the conversation crackles with mirthful energy, at other times it is just plain purposeful, but always there is the steady output of brightly hued green, yellow, and red plastic parts for our Rifton Equipment product line. Those gathered around the table are the greatest of their generation – survivors of the Great Depression and the World Wars. Many have lost family, suffered anguish, and overcome hardship to build up the community I live in. For the rest of us able-bodied, the “Round Table” is hallowed ground.

People come to the “Round Table” when they can no longer manage other work. The old, crippled, and confused come here – sometimes on their own – but more often in a wheelchair pushed by a youthful caregiver. Some come for most of the day; others only manage half an hour. Still, they come because they are loved and appreciated. They work hard. More importantly, their presence brings an atmosphere of wisdom and peace unmatched elsewhere in the workshop.

Learn about our common work on the Bruderhof.

“Read to us, Ruby.” Rudi pushes his Tyrolean hat to one side and his eyes spark merrily. He leans forward graciously toward Ruby’s chair. It is Rudi’s request, but he speaks for the whole table.

Ruby Moody, a portrait of her

I know and love them – Ruby, Ellen, Sibyl, Rudi, and the rest. All are nearing the end of their fruitful lives. Sometimes one of us will remind a newcomer with whispered reverence of their stories: Rudi, his only son stillborn; Sibyl, her daughter dead at thirty-three from aggressive cancer; Ellen, losing her three-and-a-half-year-old son to neuroblastoma and within the year a newborn daughter; and my grandma Ruby, of the four children she bore, only one grew strong and flourished – the others rest in three small graves in North Carolina, North Dakota, and Pennsylvania.

So much grief. Life has placed upon those around the table a heavy burden.

“Read to us, Ruby. Like you used to.” They do not ask her to read The New York Times – they are prudent enough to leave that for the middle-aged. They are not interested in the ancient classics – those they leave to the college-bound. Nor even the Bible – they read this daily anyway. No, they are after comfort and clarity.

Photograph of an old man wearing a hat

They crave companionship and assurance of direction. Deep inside, they remember the wonderful truths only the innocent can understand and with this knowledge comes their book selection. It is not something written for aging adults, but children. All are attentive as Grandma opens the slim paperback and reads, “Where’s Papa going with that axe?”

That wonderful sentence, full of foreboding and drama comes from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White. The story is simple enough: the runt of the litter (Wilbur the pig) is spared only because a soft-hearted girl refuses to accept that a “weakling makes trouble,” and should therefore be done away with. The story is down-to-earth and unpretentious and, with the help of a spider named Charlotte, spins perhaps the best explanation of death and dying ever written in the English language.

photo of Ellen, an older lady

My grandmother Ruby’s voice is as clear and fresh as the Minnesota air she hails from. A lifetime of teaching English has sharpened her taste for fine literature, and she has shared this love with our community for decades, reading aloud to adults and children alike at our communal lunches. It is those lunchtime readings that Rudi and the others remember so well.

Ruby reads beautifully, reaching the climax in these five sentences: “After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

So much grief for those who listen, but they are not trapped in their grief. Hearing these words they are uplifted!

Older woman wearing a hat

That was twenty years ago. The garish colors of 1990’s era plastics are gone, replaced by more contemporary subdued ones. The listeners and the reader are all gone too – they no longer need stories, for they are light-hearted, reunited with their children, and sitting at a brighter and fuller table than we yet know. But I think of them often, especially when my own children elbow me at the breakfast table and request, “Read, Mom.” I love what author Anna Dewdney wrote in the Wall Street Journal:

By reading with a child, we are teaching that child to be human. When we open a book, and share our voice and imagination with a child, that child learns to see the world through someone else’s eyes. I will go further and say that that child then learns to feel the world more deeply, becoming more aware of himself and others in a way that he simply cannot experience except in our laps, or in our classrooms, or in our reading circles.

With these words in mind, and a nudge from my children, I put down my teacup and pick up the family book. Let us all follow the example of those who sat at the “Round Table,” for they were truly wise.

Read other posts in this series here.

The stories of Ruby, Ellen, Sibyl, and Rudi can be found in Plough’s titles Rich in Years and Be Not Afraid. Comments

About the author

Dori Moody holding a cat

Dori Moody

Dori Moody lives at the Fox Hill Bruderhof in New York, with her husband Henry and their children.

Read Biography
View All Authors

Recommended Readings

  • Getting Annoyed With Old People

    January 22, 2016 by Laura Robertshaw

    Read More
  • My Salty Friend

    July 14, 2016 by Kevin Boller Jr.

    Read More
  • Learning to Say Thank You

    June 20, 2016 by Jenna Boller

    Read More
  • An Ocean of Love

    February 23, 2016 by Jean Clement

    Read More
  • Embracing People with Disabilities

    February 7, 2017 by Carmen Hinkey

    Read More
  • Knitting Club at the Pub

    October 15, 2015 by Terri Risser

    Read More
View All

You Might Also Like

View All Articles
View All Articles