I recently received an Instagram from a woman who attended a workshop I taught. She just finished reading my book, Bodies Unbound, and wrote, “I ate your book. Every word!” Later that day a card came in the mail from someone saying, “I loved your workshop and your book. You told my story.” A card I got years ago, and one I will never forget; “I read your book every year to make sure my heart is open.”
I am telling you this, not to brag, but to let you know how important your stories are to others. Writing can be a sacred act. Think of the books that have changed the direction of your life, or at the very least softened your heart enough to forgive your mother. When you take the time to find the words to tell how you overcame character defects, drug addiction, anorexia, co-dependency, family secrets, fears, handicaps, relationships – it is a gift to all who read them.
Years ago, I was at the bedside of a friend on life-support. Her husband, Brian, invited Paula’s best friends to be present to say good-bye. It was obvious to all – Paula was gone and we were bereft. Brian asked me to recite a poem. I was caught off guard. The only poem I could think of was one of my own called, Woolly Mammoth. I used a woolly mammoth as a metaphor for someone facing life without their beloved. I likened it to a woolly mammoth facing the Ice Age. In the silent room, with only the sound of the machine keeping Paula’s heart pumping, I recited my poem:
Loving you, I am transformed
into a large Woolly Mammoth.
5,000 pounds of clumsiness
Filled with pre-historic blood
Wants only to roll before your fire,
Wants to go down before you
And worship at your alter.
When I am alone,
It is as if I flounder knee deep in snow.
Staring with small, bewildered eyes for signs of you,
As if your fierceness could make all this
Fog and snow disappear.
Could bring back the Sun,
Could bring back warm, tall, grass.
My heart beats wildly
When somehow I stumble on your scent.
My legs, weakened and confused, paw the ground.
I bellow at the cold,
Craving the warmth of your golden fur,
Dreaming of the song we sang tusk to tusk for the stars.
Somehow I know if we could just love each other
In this white, frozen world,
The age of ice would never come.
If we could perform the ancient rituals
And journey as one before the glacier,
It would surely melt at the joy of us.
That poem and the image of the woolly mammoth, which I’d been given when I was in deep grief, worked for Brian about to loose his wife, Paula. He kept saying, “I am that woolly mammoth. That’s just how I feel.” With that image, Brian was able to begin his journey of living with loss rather than clinging to the hope his beloved would get well. He asked me to recite the poem at the memorial service and it was printed on the memorial literature.
When I wrote the poem I stayed in my pain long enough to find each word. Afterwards I found the process had healed my heart. When Brian could enter his grief through my words I realized being a writer was an honor, and a gift to my community.
We never know if our writing will ever be read by anyone. Sitting alone on the sofa with a pen, paper and a box of Kleenex, we know nothing, not even what word will come to mind next. It is a lonely moment but filled with the wonder of capturing our minds, hearts, and feelings with words on paper. We don’t know if it works as a poem, or if anyone else will like it. But we write what life has given us to say the best we can.
I have had painful poems about heartaches I thought I would never survive – read at weddings. I’ve written songs that are funny, sad and outrageous. I have caused both tears and laughter from my poems, songs and stories. Each one is a gift from life itself, and you have no idea how life will use it.