How Do We Cope?

Act I The Skin of Our Teeth

“After nourishment, shelter, and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.” ~ Philip Pullman

“But during the war,–in the middle of all that blood and dirt and hot and cold–everyday and night, I’d have moments, Maggie, when I saw the things that we could do when it was over. When you’re at war you think about a better life; when you’re at peace you think about a more comfortable one.” George Antrobus from the play The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder.

Even before the pandemic was declared, I was thinking a great deal about how people cope when faced with life threatening situations, like war, suffering from a deadly disease, personal or communal economic crashes, incarceration, or slavery? What is it that drives us to fight to make life better, to survive horrific situations?

In my second book Time’s Echo, Morgan and Jenna are fighting for women’s rights. They are exposed to women who have lived through horrendous situations. Those women inspire them because they do their best to carry on even as they are devalued by the men in their lives. I’m at the stage of writing now when I’m trying to flesh out the bare bones of the story and I’m always rummaging for connections that give me new inspiration for my story.

A day or two ago, in that netherworld between sleep and waking, I remembered a play I directed some years ago with similar themes to what I’ve been thinking about for my book. The play is The Skin of Our Teeth by Thornton Wilder. It was first performed in 1942 and later won a Pulitzer Prize for Drama. The United States had recently entered WW II. The world was in chaos; just another disaster that mankind has had to try to survive. And that’s the theme of the play. Mr. and Mrs. Antrobus are the head of an “every family”, who, with their maid and children have survived the Ice Age, the great flood, plagues, and war after war. Mr. Antorbus is the inventor of the wheel, the alphabet, and all kinds of other things we take for granted. But like any family, they have their dysfunctions which they must work through as the world falls apart around them. In fact, it might be because the world is falling apart around them that they must confront their misconceptions about each other and their assumptions of how the world works.

Maybe this current crisis is making us do the same thing. Many of us have lots of time on our hands and in a way we’re being forced to take stock of our relationships, our attitudes, our wounds, and our purpose in life. The Skin of Our Teeth might help you with some of the inner work you might be engaged in. Here is the link if you care to watch the play.

Since I’m a connector, someone who is always looking for answers to my big questions in unlikely places, I was excited when Scheherazade by Rimsky-Korsakov came up on my YouTube feed. At first I didn’t think past how much I love that piece of music. But as I listened to it, I remembered the story of Scheherazade. I’ve looked up a couple of versions of the story. I don’t know if she was a real woman, or just part of the mythology of One Thousand and One Nights, or as we know the collection, The Arabian Nights.

The story goes like this: Someplace in the Middle East, or perhaps in India, Sultan Shahryar arrives home from a hunting trip unexpectedly early and finds his wife in bed with servants. He’s so enraged that he beheads all of them immediately. Because of this incident, he wants revenge and vows to wed a virgin and kill her the morning after their wedding so she will never have an opportunity to cheat on him. After the Sultan has killed hundreds of women in this way, the Vizier’s daughter, Scheherazade, offers herself as his next wife. She’s known to be an educated, charming, talented women. The Vizier had tried to get both his daughters to flee to another country, but Scheherazade proves how intelligent she is. After the wedding, she makes a request of the Sultan. She promised her sister that she would tell her one last story and asks if she may do that on their wedding night. The Sultan agrees and the sister joins them. As they sit together, Scheherazade tells such a riveting story that the Sultan is enthralled, but just as the sun comes up, at the most exciting part of the story, Scheherazade says that it’s dawn and she must finish the story the next night. The Sultan agrees. This goes on like that for 1001 nights. Over that time, the Sultan’s rage has been healed. He has fallen in love with Scheherazade. Because of her courage, and talent in storytelling, peace returns to the land.

Stories can be like water droplets on stone. It may take a long time, but as the water freezes, and continues to drop on the stone, fissures form. Eventually the stone breaks. Perhaps that’s why we love watching our favorite movies or plays over and over, or returning to our favorite book for comfort. Each time we reencounter the story we learn something new and we are changed as a result.

Hopefully during this time of crisis, we will tell each other our stories both of pain and of hope and they will break down the barriers we’ve built up inside our minds and hearts.

Think of funerals and memorial services. Telling stories about the lost loved one often helps the mourners. Grief is not erased, but perhaps eased somewhat. When my father died years ago, we had a family reunion to celebrate his life. Each of us shared many stories about how he had touched our lives. When those few days ended, I still missed him. But I had learned things about him I’d never known before. Knowing those things helped me through my grieving process. His life had touched so many others and isn’t that we all hope for, to be remembered as someone who made a difference?

Welcome to my new followers. Thank you all for reading. I’d like to know what stories have touched your lives.

Lucinda Sage-Midgorden © 2020

Lucinda is the author of The Space Between Time, an award finalist in the “Fiction: Fantasy” category of the 2017 Best Book Awards. It’s a little bit like Outlander in that it’s a historical, time-travel, magical realism, novel. Jenna’s life is shattered and she must put her life back together. When she finds old journals as she’s clearing out her mother’s house, she joins consciousness with her three-times great-grandmother, Morgan. She is able to come back to her own life at intervals and apply what she’s learned to heal and forgive.

The Space Between Time is available in all ebook formats at Smashwords and for Kindle at Amazon, or you can find the ebook at iBooks or Barnes and Noble. If you prefer a physical copy, you can find a print-on-demand version at Amazon. Stay tuned for news when the audiobook version is published.

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