I implore you. If you feel the calling, you MUST write. There are too many people who depend on you to share the gift you’ve been entrusted with. It’s vital.
Day before yesterday, I freaked about writing my dad’s story…What qualifies me to write it? How do I finish it when my dad can’t talk? Am I good enough?
There were so many questions and feelings of inadequacy. I reached out to my amazing writer friend, Bridget. She knows how to give a voice to others because she writes people’s stories. I knew she understood what it was like to reach a point of vagueness, or sheer terror, and feelings of inadequacy…and still she wrote on. She reminded me that if I didn’t write his story, then my dad truly would not have a voice, especially now that he can’t talk at all.
Today, I went to the nursing home and read my dad another chapter of his story….a story I know that has deep meaning for my daddy. I read it aloud to him, and he crumbled and cried. Was I looking to make him cry? No, of course not. But what this revealed to me was the power of hearing the voice of a vaulted man. This is a man who never showed emotion of any kind. This is a man who used alcohol to not feel pain…not feel emotion…in an era where men were to be invincible over any kind of vulnerability. When he cried, he showed me that he had been real and honest with me. When he cried, I knew he had heard his own voice out loud. When he cried, I knew I had captured the essence of what he was feeling. He had entrusted me with that part of him that revealed to himself he was human. I remember earlier this summer my dad had said, “You gave me my life back.” He needed me to be his voice. He desperately wanted to be a part of this world and to belong.
Lastly, when I left, I reminded him, “Daddy, you’ve done some great things in your life. You have left a legacy for your grand children and great grand children. I am proud of what you have accomplished. I am proud to be your daughter because you are honest and kind and good.” He mouthed the words thank you with some sounds, squeezed my hand tight fiercely and kissed me.
Yes, he made mistakes…some really bad mistakes in which he felt the deepest darkest shame. But the darkness had not defined him. As a writer, I got to reveal that the shame was only part of the story…that alcohol was the antagonist for a short time. But the real Ernest, the one who overcame the darkness had risen and become a victor in his own story. His reveal had provided a path for others.
This, my writer friends, is your mission, giving a voice to those whom can not speak or do not know how to speak. This is how we heal our world, one story at a time.
Sometimes, I need to remember: I am a Writer. This summer I got to LIVE and BREATHE writing, and it nourished my soul. Yes, I remember soaking in the sunniness of it’s words and feeling it fill my body and created “I LIVE Poetry.” Each day, I lived poetically with music and photography and art and just noticing…and my friends, I must say, I had never been happier. I had to return to my job…which I love, but it IS a time sucker. Soon I was in a whirlwind of meetings and have tos, instead of I want tos…and literally writing almost came to a screeching halt. I pined for my artistic side to be fed…I remember noticing many things I wanted to sit and write about…but alas, my seat in the seat could not happen. The best part was I understood it was temporary…
Last night, I got to enjoy a fabulous group of writers, and they reminded me of the beauty of words and the healing of words and yes, sometimes the mysteries and elusiveness of words. I reveled in all that they shared. Windows to souls…and I knew I wasn’t the teacher anymore, but a fellow participant who just loved what I was doing, ENGAGING in writing.
Writing, it has MAGIC POWERS…it can heal…it can bring joy.
Have a blessed day my friends. And thanks to my buddy Michael, that sometimes it’s committing to just a few words a day.
Now, I get to tell you my favorite moment while I was in Texas interviewing my daddy.
As a prelude to readers who may not know the story, my daddy was a very VAULTED man. He never spoke any emotion. When he chatted on the phone, most conversations were short and spoke of two things, the weather and tractors and sometimes, fishing. But in the last two years, given time and nurturing, the vault has been slowly opening.
While I was in Texas, the vault opened and closed often. I never knew what day, what hour or even what minute my dad would choose to share. I made him my priority. I had some time with siblings, but even they knew my purpose for this trip was to spend time with him. One beautiful moment was when we got lost, Father’s Day Story.
THE BEST PART:
Twenty minutes before people came over for Father’s Day, my dad showed me a paper that had the AA Promise on it. I had seen the paper on the counter, but hadn’t really delved into it. It was brightly colored sunshine orange, and I briefly scanned it. Following intuition, I knew that my dad was showing me this paper for a reason, so I turned the video camera on it and started reading the promises out loud. I read through the entire document so I would have a recording of the paper in case he didn’t want me to have it. Again following my intuition, I was urged to ask him specific questions.
I asked dad what it meant to him when it asked “not to regret the past.” My dad sat back in his chair and began to tell me how the past was a teacher. Upon looking at my dad, he was relaxed and open and telling me straight up how he felt! I wanted to turn the video camera on him, but this action usually caused him to act goofy and uncomfortable and he would make funny faces instead of talking, so I left the camera focused downward so I could at least tape record his words.
On to the next questions: “No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear.” Explain this section to me dad. My dad was really engrossed in speaking now and began talking with his hands, which I don’t remember seeing him do…but I use my hands a lot when talking and celebrated that I knew where it came from! Dad was settling in his chair, so I settled back in my chair and began lifting the camera focus up, but still not directly pointing it at dad. He hadn’t noticed too much and was still engrossed in conversation.
Finally, I slouched down in my chair a little more and faced the camera full on and began asking him more questions. Explain the fear you had of people dad? What about your fear of economic security?
My dad didn’t notice the camera because he was fully engaged in answering the question. He understood these questions like the back of his hand. He had lived these questions and knew that his very life depended on him living these principles.
“We suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.” I watched my daddy’s faith and convictions unfold. He had followed his intuition too and knew these promises were vital to keep. And because he kept these promises, we could talk today. I had never heard these promises full on before, though I had attended Al-Anon meetings many times. Someone had told me once that the AA principles weren’t really being used much any more, and many people questioned how much those principles actually helped people in the past. I can tell you from what I’ve witnessed, and that’s more than with my dad, these principles saved some lives and some families, and I’m grateful for them. We continued with our conversations, actually talking and breathing together. So raw. So real. So unpretentious. Me and my daddy.
Then a car pulled in the driveway and the spell was broken. But for these brief twenty minutes which will be a lifetime for me were very beautiful. And I remembered that it was because I was PRESENT in the moment and didn’t judge what happened or how it happened. And I fondly remember, it was just me and my daddy.
I have the privilege to write my dad’s story. For most of my life, he has been vaulted, and is still very guarded and sometimes avoids questions on the phone. But this week,I get to visit him in person, and will be able to be face to face to ask him questions.
If I only get to ask about five to maybe ten questions, what would be that burning question you would want to know about his life?
He may our may not answer, but sometimes when his curiosity is peaked, he will dig deeper, or mull it over a few days.
Keep in mind he has Alzheimer’s and lucid days come less and less. It may be that I just get to keep him company, but it doesn’t hurt to try.
One of my friends asked this question:
“When you are face to face with Jesus, what will you tell him is your most proud moment?”
I used to think I was a writer. I told myself I was because I wrote lots of journals when I was younger and tons of essays for college, threw down an occasional poem, wrote some cards and letters…but that was a lie.
BUT, you’re not a writer until you are engulfed in a world you can’t possibly have until you think eat and breathe writing…when you ache to get the beasts out of you…until you wrangle with demons and journey and blockades you know nothing about and you begin to conquer them. that is when you begin to be a writer.
A writer is a witness to life and beauty and heartache and a gamut of emotions.
A writer is tortured with a myriad of emotions that HAVE to get out.
A writer experiences the desert…a time when the life of words does not exist and the land all around is barren.
I imagine that even now going through what I have this past year with my writing , one might still say I am not a writer…but I am beginning to understand the world of writing. I am ready to be a witness to testify to the beauty and lessons learned…and to experience the greatest heartache when the words don’t come…to know that even one word has healed.
TELL ME: What have you witnessed? What are YOU writing? I’d love to know your adventures.
Maya Angelou didn’t know this then, but she probably knows it now, that her influence spread far and wide, by simply speaking her words aloud and lying them down on the path for others to pick up and use….sometimes wave like flags of freedom.
Maya (I feel close enough to her energy to call her by her first name) was first introduced to me in my early twenties through a book I had purchased at a garage sale, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” I was so intrigued by the title, but I was more intrigued by her transformational story of turning a tragedy into triumph. From there ever after, my ears perked up each time I heard her name or heard a quote. I collected her quotes on calendars and notebooks and other wonderful items. I devoured her words like substance to nourish and encourage my soul.
In 2007, I wrote a poem to her. I had told my daughters of her triumphs and used her example of courage and overcoming to assist them through some difficult times. You can read that poem Ode to Maya here. What’s interesting to me, is that the week before she died, I felt compelled to post it on her web-site without knowing she was suffering physically. My heart must have known.
Fast forward to my 50th birthday party. There once was a time I thought I would dread this day, but my friend Barb had a most amazing day, and she and my husband convinced me it was a right of passage that I should celebrate to the max! As a matter of fact, Joe, my husband, reminded me that some of the women who changed the world did their best work after 50.
Here’s how I celebrated:
For my childhood years, we had Big Red soda, sidewalk chalk, bubbles and board games.
For my teenage years, we danced and ate fast fun food. Though some of the music didn’t exist from my teen years, it was fun to dance and do
For my womanhood, I read a two poems from Maya, Phenomenal Woman, which encourages a woman to truly be herself, and Still I Rise which encourages women to rise from their deepest darkest depths and walk boldly.
For motherhood, moms told their favorite mom stories.
And lastly, my husband crowned me and I went through an archway representing all the lovely women who had gone before me whom had changed the world. Joe made a powerpoint of these women, including Oprah Winfrey and Maya Angelou and other amazing women all over the world. He believed, like I believe, that we all have the power to move and change the world. Maya was there at my party. Her spirit permeated the cards I was given and the books and the quotes I received, for my friends all knew how much she moved me and called me to action.
What this amazing woman proved to me was that one woman, one man, CAN make a difference. We do it every day by owning who we truly are and BEING who we truly are meant to be. ~Nemaste my friends and love to you dearest Maya and family.