The banquet hall was illuminated by candlelight. There were heaps of fresh-baked white bread on the tables, gobs of butter, pots of marmalade. There were platters of sliced beef from cans. Soup and scrambled eggs and hot marmalade pie were yet to come.
And, at the far end of the shed, Billy saw pink arches with azure draperies hanging between them, and an enormous clock, and two golden thrones, and a bucket and a mop. It was in this setting that the evening's entertainment would take place, a musical version of Cinderella, the most popular story ever told.
The most popular story ever told. That's Vonnegut's claim about Cinderella. An abused girl rescued from her wicked step-family by a handsome prince, swept away to a castle where she will be married and live happily ever after. Of course, in the original version of the story, I believe Cinderella has her stepmother and stepsisters blinded by a flock of crows or seagulls. There's also a point where the stepsisters cut off their toes in order to make their feet fit into the glass slipper. So it goes.
I'm sure there are other stories that could make a claim to the "most popular story ever told" award. There's the tale of Scrooge and the ghosts. Or the one about Belle and her hairy love interest. Let's not forget the Jesus narrative from the gospels. Don Quixote sparring with windmills. Gilgamesh. There are a lot of stories that have been around for a very long time.
Of course, the one thing that most of these narratives have in common is the ending. Everyone, in the most popular stories, lives happily ever after. Belle kisses the Beast. Presto. Instant Brad Pitt. Ebenezer Scrooge wakes up on Christmas morning and goes on to save Tiny Tim's life. Jesus rises from the dead and redeems all of humankind. Don Quixote finds his Dulcinea. Love wins.
That's why these narratives are so enduring. They provide hope. In the ash heaps of life, there's a Fairy Godmother waiting to change you into a princess. Even if you're the biggest son of a bitch in London, there's a ghost willing to rescue your soul from eternal misery. And, of course, the biggest and most important narrative, God sends His son to suffer and die for our sins.
That's why we tell stories. It's the promise of salvation, the light of hope. We are all children who want to live happily every after. Billy Pilgrim wants it. You want it. I want it. Nobody wants to live forever in world of darkness and pain and death.
So, we sit on our parents' laps, open a book, pay attention in Church. And we listen: "In the beginning . . . Once upon a time . . . "
Saint Marty is thankful tonight for stories.