Wednesday, November 16, 2011

On Finding the Words

"Find the words," she says as she looks across the table at the 21 year-old, still-many-lessons-to-learn girl across from her. We've been remembering all weekend how to ask questions and listen closely, how to appreciate being together in person instead of across phone lines and data signals and time zones. The girl's lip trembles a little bit, and out slips the other thing she's been waiting to say.

"What if I can't find them?" 

For writers, not having the words is like wandering through a pitch black room without the faintest idea where the light switch is. Not having the words is jumping off the side of a lobster boat in the middle of the Atlantic in August without a wetsuit on. Not having the words is getting lost in the woods on an early morning run and every birch tree and wild geese-filled sky looks like the last.

So we sit there, that unlikely pair, just as they have always sat there - whether it's cupcakes and tea or the first coffee shop or side by side singing the Liturgy or the office.

And she looks at me, that 21 year old, and tells me, "Find the words."

I reel a little. The words for what? For this tiredness, for this bending over backwards to keep myself going? Find the words for the conversations I don't want to have and the things I have to let go?

But there is something in how she looks at me, with her knowing smile, and her serious eyes, that tells me to go searching for the words.

So I try this:

It's early December in my heart, early morning on the marsh with this bright fog and crackling frost. My breath is ragged but the cold air feels good, and when I pause I can see a flock of geese taking off, wheeling around for home. I hear the Mary Oliver poem. I hear the quiet and the bright. And though winter is coming, though there is a long road ahead and the days are short and the nights stretch out, and gusts of wind that shake the house - still, I can feel the brightness and trust the sun.

Or I try this:

I want to write my life like Rainer, with the patience of a poet who does not urge anything, but watches everything. I want to write beautiful things, trust that this is all the gift and not the emergency it feels like. I want to move my fingers over the keyboard and find the words to reach you, wherever you are. Because we move like comets across this galaxy and we only have brief moments to hold onto each other - so I want to offer you my hands and my heart, even if it's just for the one afternoon coffee or the one dinner or the one hug. But sometimes I'm weary and I don't know how to offer it, how to open the windows and doors again to this world and its miracles. So I'll keep writing and I will keep watch. Will you help me keep watch, too?

And finally, when I come to the end of this screen and the words still aren't quite right, I remember that sometimes we don't have the words, but someone else does. I leave you with this poem, the one that comes looking for me always when I need it.

Wild Geese (Mary Oliver)

You do not have to be good. 

You do not have to walk on your knees 

for a hundred miles through the desert, repenting. 

You only have to let the soft animal of your body 

love what it loves. 

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine. 

Meanwhile the world goes on. 

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain 

are moving across the landscapes, 

over the prairies and the deep trees, 

the mountains and the rivers. 

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air, 

are heading home again. 

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, 

the world offers itself to your imagination, 

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--

over and over announcing your place 

in the family of things.


1 comment:

  1. You are lovely.
    Your words are lovely.
    Your soul is lovely, too.

    The good thing about looking for words is that some can always be found. They may not be as elegant or eloquent as we hoped, but even clumsy words are words. And we find them, and use them, and that fulfills them, because even the simple words exist to be written and spoken.

    I think of Jesus: to the one who is faithful with the little, much will be given.

    We dare not despise the little, simple, bland things. Only by knowing and living them can we grow into the bigger, complex, exciting things.


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