By Josh Beavers
Stories fascinate me. I love investigations into our past because rediscovering forgotten lore is precious. These are the truths behind so much of our fiction and our superstitions. The tales that sometimes seem too fantastic to be true.
There was a feline friend to German and British sailors at the height of World War II. Named Sam, the black and white patched cat was a passenger and survived not one but three strikes from the enemy, first the Brits and then the Nazis. All three vessels sank, and Sam survived. He tried very hard to die, but luck was on his side. Following his third and final run in with the weapons of war, Sam took on a new name. He became known as Unsinkable Sam, and it was old age that eventually took him. Many years later, Unsinkable Sam did eventually pass away, from natural causes it seems, after spending his last years living comfortably at a home for retired sailors.
I learned of Sam this week on my drive home from work. A guy named Aaron Mahnke was telling the story as part of his podcast “Lore.” If you’re not familiar with “Lore,” it is an award-winning, critically acclaimed podcast about true life odd and sometimes scary stories. Mahnke says “Lore exposes the darker side of history, exploring the creatures, people, and places of our wildest nightmares. Because sometimes the truth is more frightening than fiction.”
I discovered “Lore” a couple years ago after more than two hundred episodes had been recorded. In that time, I’ve learned the stories behind some of the world’s most powerful superstitions and symbols. Cracked mirrors, the rabbit’s foot, the Easter egg, the Christmas tree, the jack-o-lantern, curses, the Bermuda Triangle, and on and on.
And while so many of these myths and superstitions have supernatural elements, and are still believed by many today, all of them have a simple and basic truth – in the end, they all come down to humans doing things they shouldn’t do.
We’ve been harming one another since the beginning. The Bible story of Cain and Abel tells us that at one point in our history that 25 percent of the human population committed the crime of murder. I’m not getting into theology versus science, but the point remains there have always been stories of darkness. It’s who we are as a people. We hurt each other, and when events happen that we do not have the ability to comprehend, we invent stories that help us make sense of the world around us.
That’s our history. Stories are history. And it is vital to society for stories and storytelling to continue. We must keep sharing our tales, passing them down to those who follow. When stories die, so too does our history.
As Mahnke said in a recent episode, stories can help us handle our dark and twisted history. Stories can help us transform ill deeds into lessons about recognizing our wrong actions. The purpose of “Lore” is to show that history is valuable, but it’s also full of mistakes. And it’s our job as citizens of the modern world to hold both truths and tension, respecting the past, while also demanding better for our future, a lesson we could all stand to learn from.
Our lore is our history. We all need to remember and share. “Lore” is a fabulous way to keep history alive. I recommend listening today.
(Josh Beavers is a teacher and a writer. He has been honored five times for excellence in opinion writing by the Louisiana Press Association.)
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