About seven months ago I set myself the goal of writing a thousand words a day, hoping that at least some of those thousands of words might be of interest or value to someone at some point. Over that period of time, I have missed a day here and there, and I have occasionally finished a piece and decided to trash it on the spot. Still, I’ve posted more than a hundred articles, most of which have at least amused me and each of which has taught me something about self-editing or composition.
Since the election, I have posted two, one of which was an attempt to cheer myself by celebrating the generosity of spirit shown by a football player who since his retirement from the game has devoted his life to training disabled veterans as elite athletes.
That helped for a day or so, and then, thoughts and emotions entirely jumbled, I wrote and discarded four inauthentic attempts at “business-as-usual”, swallowed twice, and posted, “No One Ever Told Me That Grief Felt So Like Fear,” in the hope that I might find my way back to something like balance and purpose.
I don’t like to think of myself as depressed; on the other hand, I certainly have not been elevated. I haven’t been able to stick with much of anything for any stretch of time; I haven’t read a book, haven’t managed to get through an entire magazine article. I haven’t watched a television program, haven’t been able to bring myself to watch the news, haven’t even watched sports with anything like real attention. I have been going through the motions, simulating life: I walk the dogs, turn on tv, turn off tv, rake leaves, feed the dogs, rake leaves, walk the dogs, but part of my mind is holding itself apart, trying to mute fears and losses I can’t completely absorb.
Yesterday, lacking any direction of my own, I accompanied a friend to the Celtic Evensong offered at the small Episcopalian church in Ashland. I respect the work that this church does in the community and in the world, but I’m not a communicant in any church. I do believe that we are more than meat on the hoof, but the mystery is far beyond me, and I don’t choose to believe that the universe operates to the benefit of a single body of faith.
I could be wrong.
In any case, I sat distracted and uneasy in that lovely and calm space surrounded by good-hearted people. The play of candlelight on the exposed beams in the church was delightful as was the music played and sung, but I was too much with myself and too far from the authentic generosity of spirit all about me to attach myself to the moment.
It was a church, after all, so inevitably the time came to offer prayer. I know the liturgy well, having once been head of an Episcopal school, and expected the familiar declarations of faith, but this modified service spoke to issues very much on my mind.
Here’s how the service ended:
“Go out in the world in peace, have courage, hold on to what is good, return no one evil for evil, strengthen the faint-hearted, support the weak, help the suffering, honor everyone…”
“Hold on to what is good.” Without my permission, the phrase nudged me out of self-pity. Holding on to what is good is not merely holding on, not merely surviving. Holding on to what is good takes courage, and strength, and faith in principles that seem to have been rejected; it is an action and it demands committment. Holding on to what is good is daunting and perhaps dangerous, but we have always struggled to find community and compassion; we have always found it difficult to honor everyone, to help the suffering, support the weak. It would be easier for me to discount others and return evil with evil, but that would be letting go of what is good in favor of what feels good.
The more difficult job for me is in remembering that none of what I treasure came without cost; for the most part, other people paid for the principles that matter to me. The future is not what I expected or asked for, but it seems to be upon us, and I have the choice to watch it spin by or step up as I can. Holding on to what is good makes sense to me and provides purposeful focus for the work I can do as a writer.
What do I do with the rest of my life?
I think I’ll celebrate our better selves a thousand words at a time and remind myself that we have a lot to hold on to.