As the oldest of four boys, growing up amid the open spaces of Iowa, I was used to having more than my share of freedoms. Walking to school, fishing alone at night on a nearby river, and patrolling the neighborhood on my trusty Schwinn bike were all activities that I took for granted. So was watching television. My brothers and I never abused the TV privilege but we certainly enjoyed catching a college football or basketball game. My parents, who were both big readers, weren't fans of TV, and tried to limit our viewing opportunities.
Sometimes, I think, we are under the magical assumption that a writer has an idea, writes a story, then an editor at a publishing house acquires it, and it is published. Four clean, clear steps in a straight forward-moving line.
Sigh. Maybe I should revise that we to an I.
If you ever wondered about the power of a little encouragement, whether it really can make a difference, read on!
Why do we feel so satisfied when we engage our creativity? Why is singing, writing a play, cooking a wonderful meal, designing a building or outfit, composing a song or sonata, capturing a particular moment in a photograph, or coming up with a new idea, method, or a way of looking at things in the brainstorming session at work so fulfilling? Why does using our imagination feel so wonderful? Why does making the metaphor that perfectly describes something by comparing it to something else feel so gratifying? Why do people make art anyway? Why do people write?
Flood water smells old. It smells like something decaying, like something that has been left out for too long, like a mix of oil and compost and mold. Flood silt is heavy. It sticks to everything it touches. A pair of blue jeans covered in it is almost too hard to carry. I know these things. I know what it feels like to walk down a block lined with more appliances than trees and more garbage than grass. Facing clean-up and recovery is lonely--deep in the bones lonely--and while part of that loss of control means surrendering to the awful thing that has happened, another part means accepting help--from friends but also from strangers. And that's why I also know what it feels like to have a stranger walk up my front porch steps, ask if she can take the pile of muddy, wet laundry from my front yard and wash it for me--and to not know what to say--and to finally say yes--and to have my life change forever because of that one word.
Recently, I attended a genocide conference that included a film called Beyond the Deadly Pit, produced and directed by Rwandan genocide survivor Gilbert Ndahayo. It documents confronting his father's killer during gacaca, the traditional court used to try "lesser" perpetrators of the 1994 genocide. Ndahayo said, "If one wants to be healed from the sickness, he must talk about it to the world. For 12 years, I lived with the remains of about 200 unpeaceful dead in my parents' backyard." I found the film so profoundly moving that I could not rise from my chair. Even now, writing this, I cannot prevent the tears. During the post-film q&a, I asked Ndahayo if making the film had facilitated healing. He said simply, "No."