Last night, my partner and I hiked over the city and looked for the full moon. We couldn’t see it, but I took comfort in knowing it was there.
Words carry immeasurable weight. I don’t mean that words are powerful beyond measure (although they certainly can be). I mean determining the exact weight of words is not a science. As a writer, I want it to be. I spend excessive energy calculating the weight of words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages.
I’ve recently been afraid of words. We’ve seen hate crimes on the rise after the election, human rights violations where our water protectors were assaulted by police. There’s been even more terrible news about climate change since recent reports. Meanwhile, unimaginable violence in Aleppo continues.
How do we keep breathing in such despair? I know I’m not the only one in danger of falling into a helpless hopelessness.
For a while, my voice escaped me. I tried writing, blogging, writing in my journal, and “talking it out.” I tried reading, painting, poetry, podcasts, and prayer, in addition to a variety of other coping mechanisms. I felt disconnected from it all. I felt disconnected from myself.
Today, I listened to an hour-long talk with Mary Evelyn Tucker. It was part of the WATERtalks: Feminist Conversations in Religion Series called, “Living Cosmology: Christian Responses to Journey of the Universe.”
In it, Dr. Tucker talked about how she is still finding her voice. This gave me great motivation and hope. She is a woman well into her sixties and is both articulate and eloquent in her words. It got me thinking a lot about my own voice.
As a writer, I’ve worked very hard to refine my voice. I work hard to create a voice that sounds as authentic and articulate as I can muster. This expectation that my voice must be both authentic and eloquent created a lot of internal pressure for me.
When I found myself in this collective despair, all of the sudden, writing went from being a useful tool—one that helps shape my perspective—to a burdensome weight in my back pocket that I didn’t want to carry anymore. I set it down and gave myself permission to quit writing.
I had a moment of despair and rebirth the other night. My partner was away on a work retreat. I felt alone and stuck in my life path. I lit a bunch of candles around me in a circle, and I prayed for guidance. Nothing came, or at least not anything I noticed. I felt empty and angry.
With this rage, I decided I was done trying to make others comfortable. I was through worrying about offending others with my “radical” ideas about human rights and saying #BlackLivesMatter. I was done worrying about either impressing or disgusting the MFA culture I immersed myself in for three years. I even decided I was done trying to be an activist. It’s hard caring so much when I can’t tell if my presence or my work makes any difference. There’s no easy way to “measure” results of activism on an individual level. It all felt meaningless.
In my rare moment of an utter existential void, I realized I wanted to exist without having to explain myself. I didn’t want to be anyone or anything anymore. I decided I was done trying to prove my worth by showing I have a purpose. I was done writing to be noticed or understood.
This painful moment gave me a taste of true freedom. It occurred to me that I might not have a “purpose,” but who says we need to have just one? Maybe staying alive to share anything we know of light and love is enough. Maybe saying I see the darkness, or I’m in the darkness, but I’m not running from it helps others survive in Life’s hard moments of vulnerable uncertainty.
When I think of the rays of light in my life, I don’t expect them to have the answers or the answer. I just want them around, because when I’m with them—or when I read their words—the darkness isn’t so scary. Besides, they notice fragments of light in places I can’t see. I try and do the same for them.
Thinking about the weight of words is exhausting. It’s a lot like buying a gift. You put effort into it, but there’s no guarantee it will be appreciated. You just hope that the gesture will help someone feel loved. I don’t know the weight of words half as much as I wish I could, but I’m thankful to know that they’re alive and affected by gravity. To be alive is hard, so I’ll cut them some slack for their lack of precision and take delight in understanding that they’re just as beautiful and clumsy as the rest of us living things.