Our lives are at once ordinary and mythical. We live and die, age beautifully or full of wrinkles. We wake in the morning, buy yellow cheese, and hope we have enough money to pay for it. At the same instant we have these magnificent hearts that pump through all sorrow and all winters we are alive on the earth. We are important and our lives are important, magnificent really, and their details are worthy to be recorded. This is how writers must think, this is how we must sit down with pen in hand. We were here; we are human beings; this is how we lived. Let it be known, the earth passed before us. Our details are important. Otherwise, if they are not, we can drop a bomb and it doesn’t matter.– Natalie Goldberg
“Why not?” I asked, hearing the pain in his voice.
“Because it doesn’t change anything.”
I love this man – but here, in this, he is wrong. Talking about things. Writing things down. Opening ourselves up . . . that changes things.
Maybe it doesn’t change the situation, maybe suddenly we don’t have a “solution” or a way out. But something does change – we change for the sharing, and if we are blessed with good friends who listen, they are changed by what we say, too.
So much of our culture says that truly trivial things – like hair style and waist size and income level – are important. We place those things on the walls of our lives and act like they are the mirrors by which our value is judged – “Mirror, mirror on the wall . . . ”
But the things that really matter – the way someone’s words cut her to core, the memory of his father’s beatings in the woodshed, the ache of being alone on a road trip – we pretend that these are the trivial things, the things about which we should not speak. We coat these things in shame and tuck them away where they wound us with every hiding.
These details, though, these small, beautiful, tragic things, they are what make a life, what make all our lives. These are the real things. These are the true things.
On my wall I have three pictures. One is of clouds, and the other two are the kind of gorgeous scribbles that 3-year-old hands make. They were drawn by my friends Flora and Monty last summer when I spent a week with their family in the Canadian Maritimes. In one of Flora’s clouds, it reads, “Goodbye and I hope you can come again. It was fun staying with you.” On Monty’s pictures, his mother’s straight hand has written, “I love you” and “I will miss you.”
These are tiny pictures, but each time I see them they remind me of the moments with these beautiful children, their little sister Georgia, and their deeply loving, profoundly beautiful parents. These are not just details; these are the story. For in this place, in this time with them, a massive healing that I needed began to take place. I found space there to grieve for my mom and to grieve for my singleness. I found space to own that I am most whole in times of quiet and near bodies of water. I found space to come back to myself a bit, to find my way to the home that is me.
It is easy to pretend that what matters is what happens on the outside. But really, the details of our pain, the details of our joy – these are what matter. To a writer. To a person.