Driving my children to and from various events earlier this week, we had a discussion about what makes a good story. They are both working on writing a book (as am I — we'll see who finishes first).
Stories, I explained, are interesting because they have conflict. There are most often two forces that push against each other. In classic stories, it's good versus evil. Really interesting stories have subplots, which reflect conflicts within conflicts.
Yesterday, another mother and I were talking about the trials and tribulations of raising children: dealing with challenges, setbacks, watching children get frustrated and sometimes even cry (sometimes the children, sometimes the mothers). As a mother, you want to protect your children, but we also know that it's the conflict that provides the growth opportunity for children. It's just hard to remember that in the thick of the trials and tribulations.
My mother reminded me of this fact on Monday after we returned home following a six-hour drive back from Easter break with both children. She said, "Growing up is not easy."
Neither is living life fully.
Life, like stories, inevitably includes frustration, setbacks and conflicts. Without conflicts, without pressure, there is no need to grow, to improve, to get better. However, ongoing conflict, with no respite, no time off, can lead to exhaustion, both mental and physical.
Even the need for conflict has a level of conflict.
In storytelling, conflict leads to a decision point. What will the hero do? Will they fight, (think Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire) will they give up, and will they be successful on their quest? Really good stories take the reader or the viewer into the world where the story unfolds, and the end is not quite evident until it occurs, preferably with a twist that was unexpected.
Life is often the same — conflict, action, unexpected endings, only in retrospect might one's life make sense. Looking back over periods of despair and challenges, people can often see how their personalities were forged, how their faith became stronger, how their relationships became resilient. It's during the process of trials and challenges that it is often hard to see the path that is being cut.
This week's news that three Maryland public school employees had bought one of the winning lottery tickets for the mega millions jackpot picked on March 30 reminds us that stories and lives can change rapidly.
The three Maryland winners, who have decided to stay anonymous, are: a woman in her 20s, a man in his 40s and a woman in her 50s. One teaches special education, another teaches in elementary school and the third supports the school system in an administrative position. At the time of their lottery win, all three held additional jobs to make ends meet.
According to Maryland Lottery Director Stephen Martino, "One talked about how they'd just been in church and said a silent prayer for some help in paying some bills."
The ticket was worth $35 million lump sum payouts after tax for each of the three people. The winners now have the ability to quit the additional jobs that they were working to help make ends meet. However, all three winners told the Maryland lottery that they plan on keeping their education jobs.
Conflict — too many bills to pay — not enough time to work, wondering how to make ends meet. Resolution — a winning lottery ticket, ability to only work for the school system — makes for a great story.
A day later after our story-writing discussion, while articulating why she might not want to go to ballet that day, our 12-year-old stopped talking and started smiling as Kelly Clarkson's song "What Doesn't Kill You (Stronger)," began to play. She began to sing the chorus, "What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, stand a little taller."
"Why does this song come on every time I don't want to do something?" she asked.
"Divine scheduling," I responded with a smile.
While the rest of us deal with our ongoing and unresolved conflicts, it might be helpful to remember that we are forging our characters and making a path that will look clearer when looked at backward.
Prayers more than answered.
To find out more about Jackie Gingrich Cushman, and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit www.creators.com.