** March 23, 2016 blog post edited and re-purposed for this section**
In the aftermath of 9/11 I was emotionally paralyzed. I slipped into a writing slump, unable to focus on my frivolous hobby when others suffered so. Writing had suddenly become… inconsequential, and selfish in the face of incomprehensible violence and tragedy. I shared my anguish and inhibition in the CompuServe Writer’s forum where I used to hang out daily (now resurrected as The Literary Forum), and one very wise writer advised me, in very kind words, to bear up; it was my duty to write. I cannot, some fifteen years after the fact, recall her exact reply, but I do remember its essence:
You must write, if not for yourself, then for people who, whether directly affected by terrorism and war or not, still face daily struggles ranging from routine to monumental and seek escape from pain, loneliness, anxiety, boredom, or overwhelming responsibility if only for the time it takes to read a chapter, a novel, or watch a movie. You owe it to them to continue to write, to help distract them from whatever they seek to forget, so they can restore and refresh in order to resume whatever trials they must. You can’t NOT write. That, would be selfish.
I was taken aback, not by any criticism or forcefulness within the post, because there was none, but by the writer’s perspective. I would like to say I immediately opened Word and went to work, but I can’t say as I did. It took me a few days to wade past my grief and disbelief far enough to recognize the wisdom in those words.
Writers write. It’s their job, the same as firemen and women fight fires, police police, and nurses nurse, regardless of personal feelings or trauma. Most writers–war correspondents and on-the-ground journalists aside–are not front line workers, but they still play an important role in an individual, or community, or nation’s ability to access necessary or critical information, and the strength and resources necessary for healing. Something as simple as a message contained in a Tweet or Facebook post alerting friends and family to an individual’s wellness–or not–can inspire relief, or communal giving, and sadly, sometimes grieving. A poem can incite peace or humor, a slogan or essay fury or forgiveness. Words are powerful.
Coincidentally, the year before the towers fell and her insightful encouragement, that same woman’s powerful skills as a writer had helped me cope with punishing pain and depression born of botched abdominal surgery that nearly resulted in my death.
Anemic and stitched hipbone-to-hipbone, I could barely move out of bed or off the sofa. Fitful sleep offered escape only so long. Even if I managed to slumber twelve hours, there were an equal number of excruciating hours to fill, and the stack of novels I had prepared prior to surgery for the estimated six-week recovery time–extended to six months following the near-hemorrhage that halved my blood pressure and decimated my red blood cell count–offered no respite. Not one could hold my interest long enough to distract me from the pain and lethargy–until I pulled out an old favorite: OUTLANDER.
Yes, it was Diana Gabaldon who, in 2000, not only drew me out of my misery and into adventurous 18th-century Scotland, but a year later also gently challenged my belief of writing as a selfish occupation, and suggested I instead view it as it is: a gift, meant to be shared. And share I will.
I do not possess the knowledge, expertise, or skill set necessary to exterminate terrorists (much as I would like to), but I can write. And write I will. Because the moment anyone compels me or anyone else, through violence, or threat, or simple criticism to give up something dear, like writing, or travel, or a latte in a favored coffee shop with friends, they win. And as my mother once told my eldest son:
I cannot let you win this battle, because if you do, we both lose the war.
They never die, who have the future in them. ~Meridel Le Sueur
**This post is dedicated to the victims and families of the 2016 Brussels attack.**
Eendracht maakt macht. L’union fait la force. Unity makes strength.