A friend sent me a much-needed text yesterday. Earlier in the day we had walked together and I had updated her on the very difficult period I was going through. Here is an edited extract:
I’m so so sorry that your heart is so heavy. You’ll get through this…Keep thinking and living in baby steps…You are stronger than you realise and I’m here for you whenever and whatever you need…Hope I don’t sound trite. Love you, my dear friend of thirty years. x
If you’ve read my recent posts about my trip to Ireland last year, you’ll know that I tend to cry as much as I laugh. At the moment tears are constantly close to the surface, and in the company of a good friend I let them leak as they will. So I had cried a bit with her that morning, and when her text arrived later that day I promptly lost it again.
Her words were so very honest and simple and I was touched that she had taken time out of her very busy afternoon to write them. (Big family. Car trip. Long weekend traffic. Enough said.) I read and reread the text over the next few hours and felt so grateful. It got me thinking about words and their power to destroy or create. Tear down or build up. Damage or fix. Wound or heal.
When I was younger I went through a period of feeling disillusioned with human connection, and whether I would ever be truly heard by another person. Whether I could ever make myself understood. The existential angst hit me hard. My 20-something self was trying to get to grips with one of the most frightening and wonderful gifts of the human condition: intimacy. How do I be close to another, and yet retain my self? How do I let someone in without being taken over? How can I give of myself without feeling fractured; dismantled? How can I be heard? Who will listen?
I tried to write to make sense of it all, but simply wrote myself into a deeper state of despair, because I started to believe that language could not help.
I wrote this in 1994:
When the Big Night falls I will call to myself,
for only I will listen.
When the darkness starts to wrap me round like a sleepy lover
there will be but I, safe in a sea of no one.
There will be islands,
but I will not call to you on yours,
for although you will imagine a bridge,
you will not build it.
There have always been islands,
and words, wandering with each other in the inbetween;
words that try,
earnest and stupid and
in their efforts to express our
desires and vaguely admirable intentions,
words of faith and hope and the greatest of these,
words rushing blindly to rescue one another from nothingness and
desperately stumbling to fill that gap we ignorantly call
There have always been islands,
and our words drowning around them,
but there will never be bridges,
and my I land is all.
Whew. Bit of a downer for Good Friday, but it was never meant to be a cheerful day anyway. (So why is it called good, then? That’s a whole other post.)
I was actually a happy young person, for the most part. Honest.
Now that I’m older and wiser (debatable), I see how imperfect we all are, how imperfect every communication is, and how imperfect language is. But I also see that it is all we have. That now and then there are flashes of brilliance, moments of perfection, glimpses of the divine, and that these are just enough for us to keep on trying, and speaking, and writing, and reading, and saying, and listening. And that so often, these things work just enough for us to feel blessed, and heard, and loved.
We live in a world where words tossed in arrogance and anger, punched towards an anonymous public, flung by clumsy ignorance, are hurting us all. As writers, let us try to be better than that. Let us believe that words have an extraordinary power, after all, and that as imperfect humans we need to wield them wisely.
Happy Easter. Be kind.