Though this is sort of part of my storytelling “series,” I’m taking a little break to include a more Sabbath-y meditation today. (I try to use meditative quotes on Sundays, if you hadn’t noticed that theme. It doesn’t always happen, but it seems appropriate to me.)
Anne Lamott, who is somewhat controversial to some folks but rather amazing to me, has a lovely book about writing called Bird by Bird. (As far as I know, this is not controversial; her spiritual memoirs, however, are, as is her outspoken political conviction.)
In Bird by Bird, Lamott writes in detail about the difficulties of being a writer, but it’s mostly a how-to book, if you ask me. She tells beautiful stories and inspires and yet somehow gives practical, witty advice, sometimes with some humorous crudeness thrown in. I plan to use some of her essays while teaching freshmen comp this fall.
The following quote comes in the midst of telling a story about visiting a nursing home with some people from her church; the purpose of telling it here is to speak to the need for sensitivity alongside honesty in writing about one’s experiences. It’s in a chapter called “False Starts.” Here is an excerpt:
If I’d written about her and the other old people after the first few visits, the smells and confusion would have dominated my description. . . I would have tried to capture my sense of waste. Instead, I continued to go there, and I struggled to find meaning in their bleak existence. What finally helped me was an image from a medieval monk, Brother Lawrence, who saw all of us as tress in winter, with little to give, stripped of leaves and color and growth, whom God loves unconditionally anyway. My priest friend Margaret, who works with the aged and who shared this image with me, wanted me to see that even though these old people are no longer useful in any traditional meaning of the word, they are there to be loved unconditionally, like trees in the winter” (p. 82).
I was planning to spend some time meditating on other people’s stories, but I’m just going to leave it at that.
Like trees in winter.