During my high school summers, I wrote one friend a letter every day. I had a list of people who I wouldn’t see because they lived just far enough away or because they attended boarding school in our town and were home for the summer.
Every night after dinner, I went to my room, got out my lap desk – you know, with the flat surface on top and a pillow on the bottom – and I handwrote a letter. This correspondence perhaps gave those people a little lift when they got mail, and it certainly helped fill the long summer days of heat in Virginia for me.
But more than that, this practice taught me something about writing – about the value of hand-writing, about the way communication matters, and about slowness, the value of taking time to pull thoughts into words.
I’ve forgotten a lot of what I used to know about taking my time.
My parents were always very good about not overscheduling my brother and I. We had lots of time to play and read every day, and there was never any expectation that we SHOULD (good golly I hate that word) do anything in particular beyond do our best in school, go to church, and be kind. That last one trumped all others.
But those lessons haven’t always stuck. I forget that my writing needs to get precedence over Facebook. I forget that prayer is slow and steady and requires silence. I forget that kindness is not something dashed off in a quick email.
I’m relearning, though, and for the past few weeks, I have made a conscious choice not to rush. I’ve decided to take my time and do things well, the first time. I’ve decided that at the end of the day if something is not done, that I will be okay with that, and I will attend to it tomorrow. I’ve decided that lists will never trump people – be they via the phone, online, or on my front porch.
Here’s how I’m seeing that come to fruit in my writing – it’s slower, it’s more thoughtful, it’s deeper. Because I’m not trying to dash off my 1,000 words as fast as possible, I find the words coming with the richness and color – a truffle of language from an Italian chocolatier instead of a Hersehy bar from the vending machine. Or honey – slow, languid, complex.
In life, that quietness has given me strength in the midst of so much horror in our world. It has grounded me, centered me, helped me feel peace even in the horror of young men gunned down and middle-aged men desolate and hopeless. Even as bombs soar over land and oil and questions of identity that cut to the core of who we are as people. Even there, taking my time to bear witness, to pray, to think, to cry – even there, I find rest.
When I am not rushing from task to task, I see more. I notice how Bliss, our badger Cashmere goat, is getting braver, taking a taste of hay from my hand while her sister, Elvira, keeps herself back a little bit less each day. I see how the way forward in my YA novel might involve more time in the place that inspired the store, a picnic maybe with a heavy dose of staring into the graveyard. I hear the way my body is healing itself with more space for breath, the way my mind is opening up to let itself change course when necessary.
I wonder if some of the way we set ourselves in our ways is not partially because we are too busy to let ourselves be changed.
Just now, I am thinking hard about what I can do in light of the terrible situation in Ferguson, Missourri. I’m sitting quiet with that question, reading a great deal about it – including this amazing post by Michael Twitty. I cannot rush this thinking, this praying, this anger. So I sit with it and find my way.
Time is a privilege that not everyone has. I realize this, and yet, I will use my privilege as best I can – for those plough shares that can be the strongest weapons we have. Pens, too.
A few weeks back, I committed to find my way back to my core, my calling, myself, and some of you joined me with your own commitment to things you most need to be and do. I hope that you are finding yourself more whole as I am. I hope that peace engulfs you, and if it is hard to find because of violence and hatred and so much big rage that can no longer be quieted, I pray that at that first moment when you wake, peace settles just a little on your soul, enough to carry you whole through your fight.
I no longer write letters every day. Instead, I write blog posts – daily again now – my letters to you to say, “Be strong in the fight. Be courageous. You are not alone. Take your time. Find your way. I’ll go with you.”
How are you finding your peace in the light of so much pain? How are you responding to so much tragedy?