I don’t know how we pinned the term on it exactly, but around our house we call them “sad sack stories.” These are stories with headlines like “Man Falls Off Stone Mountain” or, more hopefully, “Dog Risks Life to Save Other Dog.”
I read these stories a lot. I actively search them out. On average, depending on workload, I probably check CNN’s Justice tab at least once a day. A cold case? I’m on it. Specific regional stories from local news affiliates? I am reading those, too.
My husband Jon doesn’t get it. Maybe it’s because an integral part of reading sad sack stories is sharing them. When talking to Jon, I now have to preface them with “Um, can I tell you another sad sack story?” He usually says, “Yes,” because he is nice. But several times he has asked, politely of course, “Um, what’s the point of these stories?” Like I am supposed to come up with a moral or something.
The thing is I don’t have an answer for him. I could probably make one up—like, “I am just confirming that my life isn’t so bad,” or, “it’s a crazy mixed up world we live in,” or, “I work from home, so what?” The real reason is that I gravitate to these stories because I learned that’s what you should do.
Growing up in a small town, as I did, you know everyone’s business. And the business that people are sharing the most is the sad sack stuff—“He just dropped dead of a heart attack,” or, ”they just had to shut the doors and walk away,” or, “she broke her wrist and that’s when she found out her sister had stolen over $100,000 from her life savings.” The next step, of course, is to either join a prayer chain or take over some soup to the afflicted party.
While a celebratory high-school graduation banner might elicit a public smile and nod and a privately whispered, “A little showy, don’t you think?,” a sad sack story pulls people together every time.
So, maybe since writing that last paragraph I have come up with a reason I love these stories. Because sitting here in Brooklyn, listening to a woman talking loudly about healthcare outside my window, I am still a small town girl at heart. And while I might not get on the prayer chain or FedEx some soup to that dog that risked its life, I can at least share the sad sack story, and keep us all a little more connected.
You’ll have to excuse me, now, the story outside my window is really getting good. Mama needs some comprehensive healthcare and I need to listen close so I can tell you all about it.