Alien Landing (1938) Results in Nationwide Panic

Will There Be a 21st Century Version?

Alien Invasion Canva

The invasion wasn’t real.  The panic was. It occurred on Halloween Eve, when a radio adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel “The War of the Worlds” was narrated by Orson Welles over the Columbia Broadcasting System. It was on a Sunday evening, so some people were arriving home from church and turned on their radios, or perhaps were just doing their version of “channel surfing”.

Many of those who didn’t hear the introduction thought the alien invasion was real. I learned about it at my aunt’s 100 birthday celebration.

She told us about my grandparents’ ever-present faith and assurance that God would be with them even at the end of the world, coupled with the desire to have all of their family together when it happened.  They got into the car to drive the few miles to meet the rest of the family. As they took notice of their neighbors standing out by the road, pointing to the sky, looking for the signs of the aliens they had heard described on the radio.

This happened across the country. It was a true panic, caused by a misunderstanding of the “truth”.

But that was almost 80 years ago, wasn’t it?  Things were different and people didn’t have access to much in the way of news and information.

Fast forward 25 years to 1963. A few weeks after Halloween and we were watching, almost as it happened, the assassination of our president and the days following. No mistake, no misunderstanding, and we had direct access to the context of a tragic historic event. Our despair at what was happening kept us from any feelings of elation at how far communication had brought us, but we were truly able to celebrate when, just a few years later, we watched Neil Armstrong walk on the moon.

But it was just beginning, wasn’t it?

Fast forward another 25 years. We were learning new concepts and new words such as the “World Wide Web” and the “Internet”.  People were interested in what we could do and the information we could find on our computers. We rushed to buy the newest versions, marveling at “windows” that introduced visual depictions, printers that would give us hard copies and scanners that would let us add our own documents and pictures to the mix. We could “upload” and “download” and compare “servers” and “search providers.”

Fast forward another 25 years (more or less) to today.

We have phones that seem to be “smarter” than we are, and millions of apps to help us solve any problem. We can talk to and with each other and share as much of our lives as we please with a stranger across the country or around the world. We have access to science, math, literature, history – enough to fill uncountable libraries – with just a flick or a click or a scroll.

But have we really learned anything in the past 80 years? Can we discern what is real and what isn’t, what is important and what isn’t, what is urgent and what isn’t?  Do we scroll through tweets for our news and commentary, risking today’s equivalent of reading about an “alien invasion” and mistaking it for the pressing realities that face us? Do we expect a sound bite or a short video or post to give us the context we need to understand what is going on? Are we too busy to care? Are we that easily mislead?

It’s almost Halloween. How many of us will be pointing to the sky in the coming weeks and months? How many of the rest of us will be demanding the tools we need from our leaders (truth, accuracy, veracity, consistency, empathy, context, statesmanship) so that we can focus, at last, on our best hopes for the coming years?

We don’t want to see a headline like this in our future:

National Crisis Results in Nationwide Panic

Your Story — Your Legacy

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Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

1. Your story is being created.  It may not be written down, but it is being told, except maybe not the way you would want or by whom you would want.  It could be everything that you remember, but perhaps not the way you would remember it.  If you grew up in a family with siblings, you know what I mean.  “My side of the story” was often in conflict with my brothers’ and sister’s, and sometimes still is.  That is because we have different perspectives on events that we shared, the household we grew up in, the people we knew and the people we loved.

2. Your story is your own. You are the narrator, the protagonist, the hero. There are those who would disagree with your story, but that’s because it’s not their own.

3. Your story is about how you changed or what you learned from your experiences. Nobody can truly know this except you. Your gift is sharing what you learned with others, so that they can learn from it, too.

4. Your story is probably incomplete or inaccurate if you depend upon the objects you leave behind to tell it for you. I have photographs, newspaper clippings, letters, journals, poetry, report cards, greeting cards, household and personal items, yearbooks, scrapbooks – that witness my life and the lives of people who were and are important to me.  They can contribute to, but not tell my story.

5. Because I have all of the above, I have a good starting place for my own stories – my own personal collection of “story prompts”. You probably have your own, waiting for you.

6. If you choose to do nothing, your story may turn into a challenge (or a burden) for someone else to figure out. The day may come when people who don’t know about how Aunt Agnes taught you to cook from your great-grandmother’s book of recipes will toss that very cookbook into the trash along with the unlabeled photos of family members nobody recognizes.

7. If you get started, you’ll be ahead of where you are now. You’ll have more labeled family pics, plus you might have photos of meaningful items you possess, with notations of why they are important to you. You might have a new binder filled with written pieces by family members (or yourself). And you might have a plan (and/or instructions) for where your story legacy should be passed on.

8. You might decide it’s time to write a story – your own story – one page at a time. You can tell the world (or just your family, or just yourself) what you experienced and what you learned. It might turn out to be your greatest legacy.

 

The Magic and Power of Story in Our Lives

It's All About the Story

My bucket list goal of writing a novel has led me to a study of story and a new understanding and appreciation of its place in our lives. I am now convinced that it is as important as our DNA and the blood that flows through our veins, to our survival as individuals, nations, cultures and even our own species.

For me, it has been a recognition of sorts – an “I knew that but never thought about it” moment, which deserves a reminder for those who might think, “So what? I’m never going to write a novel and I know a good story when I read it or hear it.”

It is true that most of us know a good story when we read it (and we put the book down if it’s not good).  Story is even more fundamental than that when we examine how we learn and live our lives – story is one way our brains function, as explained by Lisa Cron in her book, Wired for Story. She tells us that recent breakthroughs in neuroscience reveal that our pleasure in a good story leads us to pay attention – it’s nature’s way of making sure we learn about our world.

Our Brain Prepares Us for Story

My father told me that I was a good baby.  I could be placed on a quilt on the floor and be told to stay there and I would. I’m not sure that I was that “good”, but I heard also that I was observant.  I was happy to watch what was going on around me, whether I was on the floor or watching the curtains flutter above my crib. Since I was also obedient, my curiosity didn’t take me beyond my boundaries. Perhaps my brain was preparing me for the next phase of its development.

Parents are often driven to distraction by one question they hear from their small children – “Why?” I believe that this is one avenue to our brain’s function of constructing and receiving story. When a child asks “why?”, he is learning to interpret information so that his world makes sense.

Some children are fortunate enough to have parents who tell and/or read stories to them, so that they begin to feel and understand the pleasure that a successful story brings – another function of the brain.

Story Prepares Us for Reading

I remember Dick, Jane, Sally, and Spot.  They held my interest through the first grade, as I learned to decipher the meaning of the words beneath the illustrations. I stayed with them as they spoke to each other in their stilted phrases: “See Dick throw the ball.  See Spot run.” It didn’t take me long to figure out that nothing much was happening; there really wasn’t a story.  I’m sure that Miss Carroll was as happy as I was when we could move on to stories. I knew instinctively that a story required conflict and change. If Dick threw the ball to Jane and accidently broke her nose, that would have been the basis for a story.

Story Enables Us to Retain What We Learn

What do you remember from your history classes? I suppose that I figured out what I was expected to remember and retained just enough to make a passing grade. There was no curiosity to my learning, which was likely because I didn’t recognize the context.  Context is necessary for story and if it’s absent, we just have a lot of facts or dates that don’t teach us very much.

Today, as an adult, I have become accustomed to following up on historical events by reading about them as presented in context – in other words, in story form.  I have found that I better understand the meaning of what happened, what other events were going on at the same time and how it all affected those who lived through it. For example, John M. Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History taught me about the Spanish Flu, and I also learned about its effect on World War I, possibly contributing to the circumstances that led to World War II.

Story Helps Us to Learn About Ourselves

Fiction can also help us to understand context and lead us to better awareness and understanding of ourselves and those around us. We develop empathy when we read of the lives of those in the story and can transfer it to those we meet in the real world.  It can also let us see that we are, in a sense, writing our own story and as humans, must deal with internal and external conflict.

We have learned most of what we know about ourselves collectively through story. Christians celebrate and share The Greatest Story Ever Told, and other religious traditions also use story as Jesus did, to instruct and inspire.

Nations also depend upon story to construct a testament for shared beliefs and values.  If “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, then it is important for citizens to understand the context for their laws. Open societies like our own provide a continuous flow of conflict beyond the basic “good and evil” to those of two values like freedom versus security and diversity versus similarity, making our story more complex and dynamic.

Story Helps Us Connect with Others

This leads me to a one commitment I made when I retired – to encourage others to reach out to others through their own memories and stories.  We are in a period of history with access to more ways than ever to “write our story”, but many of us are choosing the easiest and most temporary way to connect.  It’s as if we want to be remembered by a selfie and what can be written in a tweet. Our stories are precious and fragile and we shouldn’t be satisfied with what will be written (by others) in an obituary or left on a grave marker.

I am working on another website and blog devoted to ways we can write our own stories so that our children and grandchildren can know more about our lives than what our genealogy and DNA can report. I hope that you will join me there, and return here also, as we explore the magic and power of story.