A good friend is going through something very, very hard. I am not at liberty to discuss her situation here. Maybe I can talk about her experience very vaguely and cautiously sometime down the line, but not yet, not now. It is too soon. And out of respect to her, I will hold off.
Something really bad happened. Tragic. And my friend told me. I told her that I am here for her because I am. I told her that I am here for whatever, whenever. Because I am. I am realizing something about myself: I am a good friend. I care. I am a particularly good friend, I think, when people are struggling, wrestling with life and loss. I’m not sure why this is. Maybe it’s because I feel like I have been through things, hard things, and I remember, and keenly, who was there for me during these times. I remember the gestures, large and small and detailed. I remember who was there. Who was really there. And I am trying to be that kind of person, that kind of friend, to those who need it, and me.
In one of my texts to my friend, I said something. I said something that surprised even me, my fingers flying across my tiny iPhone screen. I said, If you can snag a moment or the next few days, write about how you are feeling. You would be amazed at how writing can make things a tiny bit better.
I wrote these words. And I sent them. And, truth be told, they awakened something in me. Yes, my own words, hastily cobbled together on a diminutive slab of plastic, awakened something in me. And maybe there is something profoundly egotistical about this; about the fact that I am in some regard admitting that I inspired myself, but so be it. It’s true.
Since I sent that text, I have wondering something: Why did I tell my friend to write? She is not a writer. I choose to write about things, about my life, but that does not mean everyone should.
This morning, at the gym, I read a few chapters of Julia Cameron’s The Right to Write. I have been doing this religiously these days – rising early, grabbing my coffee while the morning’s still dark and raw, stumbling sleepily to the gym, spinning on the elliptical, reading. And I have been reading about one thing in particular: writing. I have been reading about writing because I think I am forever curious. About why it is I write, why it means so incredibly much to me.
When I read the following words, I smiled so big. I probably looked very silly to those on the machines around me, but oh well.
Writing is a way not only to metabolize life but to alchemize it as well. It is a way to transform what happens to us into our own experience. It is a way to move from passive to active. We may still be the victims of circumstance, but by our understanding those circumstances we place events within the ongoing context of our own life, that is the life we “own.”
Owning something also means owning up to something. It means accepting responsibility, which means, literally, responsibility. When we write about our lives we respond to them. As we respond to them we are rendered more fluid, more centered, more agile on our own behalf. We are rendered conscious. Each day, each life, is a series of choices, and as we use the lens of writing to view our lives we see our choices.
Julia Cameron, The Right to Write, p. 94
I read these words and I nodded and I smiled. And, also, I remembered. When Dad was diagnosed with cancer, I started writing like crazy. I wrote down memories and stories and little bits about him, about the before and the after. I took my laptop over to my parents’ house and parked at the kitchen table and wrote. I shaped what was happening to Dad, to us, to me. I made it my own.
The first piece of writing I published was Dad’s death announcement in the New York Times. I wrote it the very day he died, sitting at that long kitchen table, surrounded by Mom and my sisters. Fierce with focus amid the sounds of family, of loss, I stared into the screen, and I wrote. I wrote because it was my way of contributing, of controlling. I wrote because it helped.
Big Girl was there on that morning, only eighteen months old, flitting around in her gray tutu. Gray was a perfect color for that day, for many days, a color that’s neither happy nor sad. A real color. The color of life sometimes. One day, when the time is right, I will write about that day, that day that was an end but also a beginning. I will write about Mom’s red nightgown and the sound of the clunking coffee maker. I will write about the pastries Husband brought and how he arranged them carefully on the plate and put them out for us to eat. I will write about the blond girl from the funeral home who wore all black, the girl who was just doing her job, carrying a lifeless body to another place, the girl who cried when she saw us, pajama-clad girls, girls who looked a bit like she did, girls who had just lost their dad. Just.
And so. I am rambling now and I love rambling and believe in it – there is often more truth in a ramble than a polished gem – but I will stop. I will stop because there is no rush. There is no rush to get it all down, all at once. There is always tomorrow. To live, to respond to, to write about, to own.
I hope my friend sneaks away and writes. I do. And I hope it helps.
I am not keen on advice, but today I am giving it, and unapologetically too:
Write. Write about your life, your love, your loss. Write to look in, and out, back, and ahead. Write to wrestle, to flee, to feel. Write because you do not know what else to do. Write because you have a story, a story you choose and do not choose daily. Write because writing means ownership, owning your life. There is an immense and abiding power in words simply spilled on the page. What you do with that page is your choice – show it to someone, show it to everyone, show it to no one. Hang it up. Rip it up.
How do you cope with tremendous hardship? Do you believe in the power of writing through and about life? Are you a better friend during happy or hard times? Are you going through something hard now? Write about it here if you choose. Feel free to do so anonymously.