I was looking for a laugh on Dave Barry‘s site and looked at a collection of articles that gained him a Pulitzer in 1988. I wasn’t prepared for the impact of the reflective article Lost in America about relating, or not relating, to a parent in transition. It’s brilliant, the kind of honest truth that is nearly impossible to write, much less write well. Transcending self-deprecation to searching, searing awareness.
Reminds me of a book that impressed me—Speak What We Feel: Not What We Ought to Say: Four Who Wrote in Blood, by Frederick Buechner. He writes about four authors, G.K. Chesterton, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Mark Twain and William Shakespeare, who wrote “vein-opening” work at least once. It takes, he says, “a certain kind of unguardedness, for one thing, a willingness to run risks, including the risk of making a fool of yourself.” The title is from Shakespeare’s King Lear, when the Duke of Albany says, “The weight of this sad time we must obey,/ Speak what we feel, not what we ought to say.”
Buechner hopes that in looking at what these authors endured in life, and what they wrote,“not what they thought they ought to say but what they truly felt, we may possibly learn something about how to bear the weight of our own sadness.”
Here’s a bit by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
What is my wretched life? Five wasted years almost have passed in Ireland. I am ashamed of the little I have done, of my waste of time, although my helplessness and weakness is such that I could scarcely do otherwise… All my undertakings miscarry: I am like a straining eunuch. I wish then for death; yet if I died now I should die imperfect, no master of myself, and that is the worst failure of all. O my God, look down on me.
I read the section on Hopkins after I felt that I had had five of my own wasted years, felt the things he wrote about above, and felt a heart connection to him, found comfort in his words, that he carried on and continued to write, with a sense that what was important was inner growth. Isn’t it strange, writing of his feelings of profound failure and loneliness, how could he know that someone over a hundred years later would read his words and feel less a failure, less alone—would be grateful that he lived, and kept writing how he felt?