Writing my way back

Lit_candle I made a choice when I began writing this blog that I would try to stay away from politics and world news.   As I am a somewhat political and passionate person, that’s proving to be more difficult as time goes by, and today, I find it impossible. 
Often, because I am a writer, and a mother and a citizen of this planet who dearly hopes to leave it a tiny bit better than when I arrived, events leave me sorrowful or full of despair.  By writing, I am sometimes able to write myself back to faith.

For two days, I tried to duck the news pouring out of Virginia.  Resolutely, obstinately covering my eyes, my ears, and making noise–lalalalala–so the news did not get in. As if that would make it disappear.  As if, in my good
fortune, it would not be.  Sometimes, it seems we are all so very afraid. Afraid of all kinds of things.  Of everything. All of us.  What terrible
things are lurking…there, up ahead?

One of my little habits in airports is to pray for the soldiers I see.  It’s nothing elaborate, just a simple "take care of that one," and "that one," and upon seeing the rosy cheeks of a girl, "oh, especially her."  I hate the war and it overwhelms me and I don’t know what to do about it, and finally, I settled on this little ritual.

Sometimes, on a long layover, I’ll go out looking for uniforms.  On this trip, two soldiers sat next to me on the plane.  One was headed to Iraq in two months, and the other, older and more experienced-and Marine-had already been and spent the flight giving him advice.  The one next to me made me think of my youngest, with his pale brown skin and big eyes. He was sturdy and muscular and Hispanic, with a jailhouse style tattoo of a dagger emblazoned over the tender inner flesh of his left forearm, which he leaned on to listen to the Marine across the aisle. He drank an impressive number of beers, while the Marine drank a similarly impressive amount of Bacardi, both of them in one flat hour.  I had a good long time to ask for special providence for him.  I wondered if his mother was in LA, or if he’d been to see a sister.  He was polite to me, apologized at the end of the flight for
his rowdiness.  I saw him afterward at the airport, smoking with hard eyes.

I was thinking of him, this man-child, when the first news arrived out of Virginia. It demolished me.  Took the air out of me. And what can I do, after all?  What can any of us do?

But I am a human being living in this country.  I am a mother of children this age.  I am a writer who has been actively working toward peace for as long as I have been able to express myself.  I am a citizen of the world that produced this troubled soul.  In the end, there is no ducking it.  I am responsible, too.  If that is so, I must pay attention.  Last night, I could not sleep, disturbed by all the sorrow in the air, by the loss and the great rip in the fabric that is ourselves.  I let the news in.

Of course, the terrible thing hanging in the air arrived at Virginia Tech, where that boy-they are calling him a man, but he wasn’t-killed so many people.  So many.  The weight of it now, after so much, staggers us.  We don’t know what to do with it, how to even start talking about it.  Now, after so much.  I thought of the soldiers on the plane, who have to inure themselves to ordinary life in order to survive war time.  I thought of the war and the cell-phone videos of Saddam Hussein being hanged.

I thought of the dancer who was killed in Virginia, whose brother loved her. I thought of the students who were worried about exams on Thursday and those who had too many beers on Saturday night and those who went home for the last time a weekend ago and now won’t be doing any of those things.  I thought of someone walking into the same ordinary classroom that she always attended on Monday mornings.  I thought of the parents of the assassin.  I thouhgt of him, obliterating his face, and how much hate that evinces. How much hate he unleashed in the world.

A violent society produces violent people. Have there ever been peaceful societies where these things don’t happen?  I don’t know.  From here, it doesn’t seem like it.  And yet, we continue to wish for it, don’t we? We want a society where our children are safe and broken humans find assistance instead of buying weapons and spraying bullets into a crowded room.

It’s so easy to get lost in a world with so many people. 300 million of us in this country alone.  300 million individual human beings, each one with longings and hopes and dreams and broken places.  How can some of them not slip through the cracks?

We have so much material comfort now, so much ease and plenty (too much) to eat and too many ways to spend our time and too many choices to make without enough guidance or faith and few willing to don the robes of elder, to take the lamp and hold it up high for others to follow.

In the darkness, there comes the challenge–not how do we change this, but what can I do?  How do I serve now, and how do I prepare myself to be an elder, a wise one, when the time comes?  Each of us has seasons to serve in particular capacities, and if we are willing, we can work toward that better vision. What if each individual human has enough to eat and a clean warm bed, and access to medical care? What if our  highest goal was not to die the richest of them all but to serve the highest good, that of realizing the society we have it in us to create?

Because we do have it in us. I have it in me.  You have it in you.  The world resides within each of us.

I suppose my place in this picture is always the same. I am earnest. I am nurturing.   I use my words to attempt to heal broken hearts and humans in my small ways, through novels about people who have survived and triumphed; though classes for wounded or searching artists; through this blog, which is meant to be a peaceful pool and an exploration of the writer’s craft. It seems very small in a world that’s so full of trauma, but in the end, we can only do what we do.

I have been blessed to know some powerful elders in my life.  One thing they have in common is their faith.   My grandmother, who prayed without ceasing her entire life.  My late mother-in-law, who could fill a room with light when she lifted her voice in prayer.  My friend Kathryn, a Native American teacher, who led me to healing myself.  The mother of my friend Lynn was a devout Christian, the wife of a preacher, who put a great deal of stock in prayer.  She prayed for those she knew and those she did not, and when she
died, another woman in her church asked Lynn to take up the mantle.  "You have no idea how many people she was holding up by the power of her prayers."   She, was a light in the darkness of disease and alcoholism and lost women and broken children.  She served with her hands and her money and her heart, but she served most fiercely with prayer.

So, in dark times, there is where I go-to prayers and to words. What can I do? I can pour my sorrow into prayers for the lost and the dead and the grieving.  Here, I have written myself into believing again.
Here, I light my own candle.
And hold it aloft.

19 thoughts on “Writing my way back

  1. Thank you for this, Barbara. You’ve brought tears to my eyes, but mixed with the tears of sorrow for the families and friends and acquaintances of the victims, and also for the rest of us, are a few tears of hope.
    Holding my candle of prayer and hope high, too–

  2. I have the same ritual, with soldiers.

    Beautifully written.

  3. I love that you have the same soldier ritual.

  4. Caroline

    How did I not know that you have a blog? Well, I do now and that is what matters most.

    This post is beautiful, I have felt so overwhelmed by reading the news stories about that awful event in Virigina, I don’t know that I could ever put to worlds how I feel and you do so beautifully.

    Also, you might be proud to know that Ian just placed a bumper sticker on our door, curtosey of Moveon.org that says Endless (“less” crossed out and replaced with “this”) war. So, you raised him right 🙂

  5. Peggy

    What a beautiful post. You said it all.
    I’m joining you with my prayers too.

  6. Cynthia

    Some instinct guided me to seek out your blog today. I’m so glad I did. You give voice to my feelings, expressing them better than I ever could. Thanks for the free therapy.
    I live in northern Virginia, about 25 miles south of the White House. Since 9/11 we’ve felt we live in the outer rings of a big bulls-eye target everyday. Now one of our “safe” places, a jewel of a campus in the semi-rural Blue Ridge Mtns. has been brutally violated. Five of the shooting victims graduated from our local high schools. We are nauseous from all the violence and war. The one true thing that keeps us whole is the “rock and roll church” a few streets over. Love your writing, Barbara, it is a peaceful pool. May you always reflect the light of the Lord.

  7. Yeah, let’s lift our candles, whatever they are.

    So, so, so sorry, Cynthia. Glad you came by.

    Oh, Caro, that’s so great.

  8. Denise Claire

    I also pray for the soldiers I see in airports. Recently, in Charlotte, NC I watched a mother and father say good-bye to their son at the gate and witnessed the mom’s silent tears as he walked away onto the plane. I had to bite my tongue hard so I wouldn’t join her in tears.

    Tuesday, I cried most of the day as I watched the convocation at VT and listened to gospel singer, Cece Winans sing “Just Come” at least 50 times. I’m not a huge gospel fan, but somehow it was more comforting to listen to a group of believers singing as opposed to a soloist. There was solice in the “community” of it.

    Good will overcome Evil and our prayers will prevail. There is great power in them and they are the best gift we can offer to this Fallen world.

  9. Kim

    Hi Barbara,

    We met on Saturday when you spoke at our OCC meeting. Thank you so much for this beautiful post. It conveys everything that’s in my heart. I’m another person who sends little prayers when I see soldiers. God bless them for what they do, but send them home soon.

    You’re right that we can all do our part– whatever season we are in. And please know that your books and your words are solace to many people in this crazy world we live in. They are to me.

    Take care,

  10. ckm

    Thank you.
    Found you through my daughter’s blog. Well, said; well done. I had no idea I had so much spiritual company when I prayed for the soldiers. Blessings on your head.

  11. Barbara, I’ll be traveling soon. I think I will adopt this inspired habit of yours and make it my own. I pray for soldiers all the time, I’m a military brat, so I pray for soldiers and their families every day, but putting a face to them makes it extra special and personal.

    Beautiful post.

  12. I’ve been pointing everyone I know to read this– because you’ve said words that needed to be said and they need to be read and the sentiment carried within us. I’m another one of those who’s going to be traveling next week and I’ll carry a candle and say a prayer.

  13. Mel


    My words cannot express how much this beautiful post moved me.

    Thank you for your spirit. You are a light in my world.

  14. The thing I love the most in this is how many of us are out there asking blessings for soldiers. Love is good, in all its guises.

    I’m feeling so emotional reading your replies. Thank you.

  15. Janga

    Thank you, Barbara. I think there is healing in words that express so beautifully what many of us are feeling.

    I teach on a college campus, and I suspect that all who are part of campus communities, or who have loved ones who are, have felt particularly vulnerable this week. Like most campuses across the country, we held a vigil—as much to comfort out own aching hearts as to memorialize the Virginia Tech dead. The questions in our students’ eyes, the directives from administrators assuring us that our university has a plan and advising us about how to respond to students, parents, and media, our understanding that every campus has its troubled souls—these pave the road to paranoia. We need the light of many candles.

    Perhaps some of you know the work of Michael Bishop, best known for his science fiction short stories. His son, Jamie Bishop, was one of the professors killed on the VT campus. Please remember Michael, Jeri, and their family in your prayers.

  16. Janga, hugs to you. It must be particularly difficult to work on a college campus just now.

    Thanks for the heads up on Jamie and Michael Bishop.

  17. Patricia

    Barbara, When I learned of the VT tragedy, I immediately thought of you. I had read your 2004 Dallas speech about why it’s important to write Romances, in light of Columbine & 9/11 (& what a beautifully-written piece it was), & I almost knew how you would be feeling about this latest tragedy. As usual, your lyrical, beautiful & soulful writing expressed it wonderfully.

  18. I’ve been trying to block out the news, too, though there have been some moments that I’ve hung onto, such as the people in Palestine planting 32 olive trees.

    Patricia reminded me that I should go back and listen to the conference CD of your talk. I think it’s something I need to hear right now. And like Mel said, you are a light in my world.

  19. Patricia, thanks for reminding me about that talk. Columbine was so close to us (right up the road) and my boys were in high school, and this was before we buffered ourselves, and I was absolutely freaked out for weeks afterward. (If anyone wants to read the talk, there is a link to the left, “Acts of Faith”).

    Psychically, these blows are hard to absorb. They keep coming, and that’s harder.

    Gabrielle, Mel, hugs back to you. Thanks for telling me about the 32 trees planted in Palestine. That’s beautiful.

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