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What I did Instead of Writing

posted Jan 8, 2018, 10:48 AM by Pat Riviere-Seel

    Weymouth Center in Southern Pines is where I go to write.  It is my creative place, the gracious rambling house and formal gardens where the beauty, the history, the friendly ghosts of literary giants permeate every corner of the house and float through the gardens, out into an open field and into Weymouth Woods. Here I find solitude and uninterrupted time for creative work. I carefully protect my writing time here. It is a gift, free of the distractions of everyday living, to write, to dream, to walk and run and to go deep into my chosen craft. It is a time of deliberate and focused attention. This is a place where I am fed.

    But last September when a friend who had disappeared from my life for 14 years reappeared and wanted to have lunch, I readily agreed. Nothing was more important for that afternoon than to reconnect with someone I thought I had lost.

    M. is a writer and a poet, a kindred soul. We met in a poetry class in the early 1990s in Asheville. I had believed that she would always be part of my life. Then she moved away from Asheville. She had good reasons for moving and I know that long distance relationships require extra effort. But I thought we would stay in touch. She was going through a rough patch in her life, some of it all too familiar to me and some her unique struggles and demons.

    “I did you a favor. Trust me,” she said about her 14-year absence from my life. I’m sure she believed that. I was not convinced.

    Last  summer was a season of hard losses. Three close friends, all 72-year-old women, died suddenly and unexpectedly. Hardly had I begun to adjust to a world without the first when 20 days later the second died. I was buying toothpaste when I learned of her death. Two months later, a friend from my years in Annapolis died. Our letters and phone calls had become Christmas card notes, and I had not answered her cheery note in last year’s card.

    So when M. reappeared, I greeted her with all the joy of a resurrection. 

    Over lunch at Sweet Basil’s, we talked about writing, about our lives, our country, and our world. We dispensed with the difficult stuff early.

    “I’m a conservative,” she said. I’m a Christian and I watch Fox News.”

    “I’m a liberal and I’m a Christian. I watch CNN. Fox makes me crazy,” I said.

    “As CNN does me,” she laughed. I laughed. We continued eating and talking. We laughed a lot.

    We didn’t raise our voices. We didn’t blame or accuse anyone. We didn’t talk about ideology or politics. We talked about our concerns and fears about the world we live in. We listened. We heard each other.

      "So you’re just content to sit here while a nuclear bomb may be exploding even as we speak?” M. asked, startled that I did not share her fear of the “end times.”

    “There’s nothing I can do to stop a crazy man from detonating a nuclear bomb,” I said. “If I die right now I’ll die knowing I’m doing what gives my life meaning.”

    If there is one thing that I have learned from the year’s losses it is that I don’t know anything. It’s stunning and humbling to admit: I don’t know. That’s why I write. And read. And make time for the people I love, the friends and the friendless. That’s why I try to be kind and love the people I love as best I can. But, like most of us, I am deeply flawed. I am rarely successful. Still I try. And the words of Ranier Maria Rilke return to me:

    Be patient toward all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books that are now written in a very foreign tongue. Do not now seek the answers, which cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them and the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

    That’s all I can do: keep asking the questions, keep writing the poems that need to be written and now the prose that is forcing me into dark places and raising questions I may never be able to answer.

    Yes, I contact my elected representatives and let them know my thoughts on issues. I protest. I resist. I give money to the organizations and the people who are doing the important work for social justice that I believe in. But more important for me is learning to love the questions and to love the world, ferociously and unconditionally in all its glory and ugliness.

    My retreat time in September was filled with solitude and productive work. It was also been a time of deep conversations and connections with friends, old and new. I worshiped with strangers and felt the familiar bond with unknown people all over the world who were hearing the same liturgy and lessons. I wandered the trails in Weymouth Woods and sat on a fallen log listening to the sharp hooves of unseen deer break twigs. I spent an afternoon with a friend I thought I had lost.

    This summer when I asked a dear friend what I could do for her now that the worst thing had happened, she replied, stay in touch. Stay. Touch. Risk loving the world and letting it break your heart.