Some overlooked advice

By Sarah Allen sallen@civitasmedia.com

May 9, 2014

Two things have been on my mind lately – children’s books and stress.

At first glance, those two things seem to have little, if anything, in common, and I would agree. But, regardless, I have been thinking about both of them far more than I usually do.

For starters, I have recently started revisiting some of my favorite childhood stories, as well as reading a few that I somehow missed when I was growing up. (I’ve discovered a love for anything by Roald Dahl.)

And what has struck me while I’ve been reading or re-reading those classics is how remarkably insightful those stories are.

Those classic stories – “Charlotte’s Web,” “Harry Potter,” “The Lorax,” “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe,” to name a few – did more than just tell a story. Of course, we didn’t realize it when we were kids, but those stories were surprisingly astute … especially when it came to life’s hard moments.

And last week, I wrote about one of the hardest challenges people face throughout their lives – stress. In doing so, I learned quite a bit about stress that I hadn’t known.

What astounded me was the remarkable power a person has within their own mind. Every person I interviewed for that story discussed perspective and how a person’s attitude can affect how he or she handles stress.

On one hand, that can be a daunting idea. No matter how much yoga you do or how many vegetables you eat, if you don’t have the right mindset, stress can still be an overwhelming challenge.

But, of course, the influence of our mind is also amazing.

Often, I think we underestimate ourselves. We think of ourselves as nothing more or less than everyday people, with routines and schedules, to do lists and phone bills, rushed week night dinners and alarms to be set.

But nothing about being “everyday” has ever been easy or straightforward. We, as living beings, were made to be miraculous.

Even just biologically, we are amazing. A simple internet search reveals the following: Our hearts beat over 100,000 times per day; our nose can remember up to 50,000 different scents; and the muscles in our eyes move around 100,000 times every day.

And we do all of that naturally. There is no conscious thought that tells our hearts to beat, our eyes to see, our nose to smell. Imagine, then, the power the brain can have if only we could arm it with the proper perspectives and attitudes.

Which brings me back to my favorite childhood stories.

When we’re growing up, we don’t realize that nearly everything we do ultimately trains us for adulthood. Whether it’s playing house or following mom and dad on errands, we are unconsciously preparing for the years to come.

The same is true for the stories we read as youngsters. Of course, there are the lessons that are straightforward – any child could recite the lesson from Aesop’s “The Tortoise and the Hare.”

But others are more subtle and don’t become obvious until we are older. Because certain stories, especially the ones that really stay with us into adulthood, taught us the hardest things about life. They were safe venues for learning that life is rarely easy, that challenges will come, and that happy moments cannot exist without sad ones.

In short, they prepared us for life’s many and varied stresses.

As just one example, in “The Bridge to Terabithia,” Katherine Paterson wrote, “Sometimes it seemed to him that his life was as delicate as a dandelion. One little puff from any direction, and it would blow to bits.”

Who, after all, hasn’t felt that way at one time or another?

But those stories did more than just tell us about life. They gave us advice. Of course, we forget it as we grow older, thinking instead that a quote by someone with “CEO” behind their name means more than something said by a lovable, talking animal.

And maybe it does, or maybe it doesn’t. All I know is that, recently, I couldn’t help but find little truths in a few of my favorite childhood stories.

Perhaps we have outgrown them. They are simple sentiments, after all. In fact, I don’t think a single word in the following quotes has more than three syllables.

But, then again, maybe if we really thought about them, those stories could help us tweak our often-damaged perspectives.

Here are few of my favorites:

‪‪•‬‬ In “Charlotte’s Web,” the spider for which the book is named says, “Never hurry and never worry.”

‪‪•‬‬ Shel Silverstein wrote: “Listen to the never haves, then listen close to me / Anything can happen, child. Anything can be.”

‪‪•‬‬ In “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” Dr. Seuss wrote, “So be sure when you step / Step with great tact / And remember that Life’s / A Great Balancing Act.”

‪‪•‬‬ In “Winnie the Pooh,” A.A. Mile writes, “You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, smarter than you think, and loved more than you’ll ever know.”

But one of my favorites is from “Alexander and the No Good, Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Day,” by Judith Viorst. In it, the main character finds one hassle after hassle, and disappointment after disappointment. At the end of the book, he says, “It’s been a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day. My mom says some days are like that.”

And that’s perhaps the best advice of all. Some days come with more stress, just as some come with more happiness.

So, yes, stress is a part of life. It’s something we’ve known since we were small, and something we’ve been preparing for since that time, too, even though we didn’t know it. And perhaps, if we could sometimes just remember those little lessons from so long ago, those simple things, perhaps some of life’s complications would loosen their grip just a bit.

Sarah Allen may be reached at 937-393-3456 or on Twitter @SarahAllenHTG.