I’ve been purging my files the past few days, and I found this gem under the name “Monthly Musings” written by yours truly almost two years ago. I guess I was planning on writing a monthly blog post. Psshh. What a dreamer! It’s not light reading, but begin here if you want some tough feelings put into some little words:
Damn. Can some people write. And can some people can’t. I become teary when I read good writing. And I’ve been teary this afternoon. To me, good writing is hard to describe. Good writing says everything I think, but in a concise, glorious way that I only wish I could mimic. I wish it came easily to me. Maybe it doesn’t come easily to them, but it seems to. Is that when you know you’re “good” at something? When it flows from your brain to your fingertips or your lips and affects people who listen or read so deeply that it causes them to change their minds about something, or just causes them to sit and think. Sit. And think. About something they may not have ever thought about or something that they hadn’t thought about in the way you presented it. What is good writing? Is it the art of describing a feeling, an event, succinctly and simply, but profoundly? But what is profound to one may not be so profound to another. Is it weaving together beautiful words that roll off the tongue – sonorously beautiful words? I read Luke’s journal post from our trip to Auschwitz two years ago. His opening paragraph:
“I went to hell this past weekend. It was a bit of a disappointment. The devil had moved on.
The fires were quenched. The sufferers did not scream, but slept. There was nothing to hate. No banners of cruelty, no piles of bones, no instruments of torture. The guide told me the devil had been there. But he’d definitely moved on. There were only sunlit fields and ruins. The poplars were particularly magnificent.”
How beautifully succinct. I was there. I felt these things. This empty horror. Two years ago today. But never could I have written something that summed my feelings up so perfectly. Flawlessly and respectfully. I went to Auschwitz wanting to feel something. It was about me. I wanted the place to change me, to teach me something I didn’t know about this cruel world or about my cruel self. I expected to cry. Thank God Jeff Bouman told us prior to leaving to be free to feel however we felt. Not to force a feeling we thought should be there. We walked through the empty streets. Past townhouses-turned jail cells-turned museum. Only artifacts of the horrors left. And pictures of the victims. And the perpetrators. But quiet. And empty. We walked into the creamatory. I tried to imagine the Nazi soldiers shoveling Jewish and other prisoner remains into the ovens, those on the outside watching the smoke rise to join the clouds. I tried, but it was still empty. It was hell. The devil was there, but he had left. And it was disappointing. It was sunny. We walked out while many never did. Never dreamed to. It seemed unfair, but unreal. We ate a full meal steps away from where Jews and Poles and the crippled and homosexual were prodded outside and shot in a courtyard. But these things ended.
But, as Luke says later, these things live on. Massacres and genocides still happen. Particularly the Jobbik party in Hungary, the anit-semetics in Hungary and elsewhere. The child soldiers in north Africa. The devil has moved there. And there. And there. And years later maybe our descendants will walk through those camps and feel what we felt in Auschwitz. Horrified, but empty. A horror that has passed, but lives on in other forms, in other places. And how will they write about what they’ve seen, or not seen? What will they do about it? What will we do about it – what will I do about it? What should I, can I, will I do to not just dispel atrocities, but obliterate them? Can I do it with words, with songs, with fists? Luke knits a story from the things we saw and the things we didn’t see at Auschwitz. He brought it into our present and made me think about the thoughts I just recorded. With a few simple words, short sentences, he created a story and left its resolve to the reader. Left it up to him and to us to do something about the persistent evil, large and small, that destroys lives around us. He reminded us to live, as it is our responsibility to the dead – to breathe and write and sing and shop and chat – to do the small things that bring joy and the big things that bring life. The only thing I’m left with is: Is it ever enough?
I ache for a meaningful passion. But I struggle with what the even means – meaningful. Is it something that gives me joy, selfishly? Or by giving me joy, and life, can it bring others joy? And what’s the value in that? The value in a “like,” in a smile, in a word of encouragement, a word of “I’ve been there.” To change the world. A responsibitliy or a blessing? A possibility or an ignorant dream? I hear “You may not change the whole world, but you may change one person’s world.” Blech. I want more than that! But do I want it for me or do I want it for the people it effects? Of course I want it for me! I’m a selfish brute that finds nothing worthwhile unless many people know about it. Unless many people look to me and know my name. But why?? Why do I care if I make it into a history book or not? That’s not where change starts. That’s where it ends up. It’s a byproduct, not a goal. As a goal, it destructs. It leaves the work you did meaningless. Void of love or truth. I read Bart Tocci’s post on the post calvin, too. It also put into lovely sentences how I feel “post calvin.” When I was a child (maybe I still am), the world was my oyster. In college, it became even more so. I wanted to sing on Broadway, I wanted to be a famous singer, actress, writer. I wanted to travel the world and learn nine languages. I wanted to be a marketing executive, I wanted to be a stewardess, a waitress, I wanted to sail around the world with a crew who became my best friends. I wanted to fly a plane, to design advertisements that made it to the superbowl. I wanted to teach English anywhere. I wanted to be anywhere but here. My world was huge. Gigantic, stupendous! I could do anything I wanted – the world was my book and I could write wherever and whatever I wanted…it was up to me! And then graduation came and went. And I had to make decisions, realizing I couldn’t go halfway across the world in two months, because I didn’t have a visa, or money, and I actually wanted to stay in Grand Rapids. My world did become smaller. With every decision I made. I took a job, a job I was desperately trying to avoid. A job that sometimes makes me want to die, that makes me feel as if I ‘ve given up on every dream I’ve recently had.
But then part of me thinks it’s not over – sometimes I think maybe it’s just begun. Maybe I’ll get better at this horribly mundane job. Maybe I’ll motivate myself to write, to sing, to play the piano, to write songs and poetry, to not be entirely terrified at each new thing. To date and bear it. To not think so hard about every decision I make, every word I say, every man I talk to, every song I play. Maybe I’ll keep improving, maybe I won’t. Maybe I’ll be a more thoughtful, engaging conversationalist, more interesting, and maybe I won’t. Maybe I don’t have to please everyone I meet, maybe I don’t even have to please myself all the time. Maybe I’ll be less hard on myself. Maybe I’m an artist, maybe I’m completely not. And maybe I’m just a pessimist. I know I have it good. So extremely good. Which is why I want to do something with it. I’m not content going to an 8-5 job, 40 minutes away and slowly dying at my desk under the eye-gauging fluorescent lights. I want something more – even if that’s just a softer bulb to light my work.