Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How a stranger's life changed my perspective on writing

I’ve spent the last few weeks caring for a gentleman transitioning from this life to the next. He was a man who up until June 27th I had never met. He quickly became someone I will never forget.

Due to the nature of Don's care I didn’t have much time to do anything but scribble out a few thoughts in runes (which resulted in some good-natured teasing when his grandsons caught me at it), but I was afforded quite a bit of time to think.
The life I saw before me this past month was the culmination of more stories than could fit into a library of books. Stories of triumph. Stories of loss. Stories of friendship. Stories of a nature that was beyond generous. Stories of a man who was by no means perfect but who always seemed to consider the needs of others…including complete strangers.
I find it fitting that during the church service I attended this past weekend the pastor spoke on Hebrews 13:2 which reads “Don’t forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it.”
The Greek word used in this case was Philoxenos or “Love of the strange,”  so another translation could easily read: “Don’t forget to care for the needs of those who are unknown to you, those who exist outside of your comfort zone…” It's a statement that seemed to describe Don perfectly. It also cemented a thought that I'd been mulling over for some time now:

What am I regularly doing to show love and compassion to those outside of my inner circle of comfort?

I can't speak for everyone, but many writers are very schedule oriented. We tend to worry about deadlines. We get frustrated when our writing time is interrupted by "just this one little thing." There are just days when people become irritants instead of living, breathing individuals with wants and needs very similar to our own.

One of the reasons we write is because we want to add something of value to a life of a complete stranger, so we spend hours pouring through books, reading blogs, attending workshops, and working our craft in order to do just that. While that is in fact a noble ideal to aspire to, I think there is a point in which our quest results in us isolating ourselves from what's really important. When that happens we have a major problem on our hands.

It's time to re-evaluate our purpose as writers.

My favorite quote by Henry James Thoreau is "How vain it is to sit down and write when we have not stood up to live." Don's life was full because he lived his life in the world. He worked incredibly hard and he dedicated himself fully to every task he embarked on, but he managed to find that rare balance between finishing each job he started to the best of his ability and making each person he came into contact feel loved, appreciated, and important. 

Don's life was blessed because of his care for others, as were the lives of the countless individuals who streamed through his back door or called to wish him well during the last two weeks of his life. As I kept my vigil through his last night on this earth I found myself wondering if the same would be said of me someday.

So my question to us as writers this week is this: How can being more active in our relationships with loved ones (and strangers for that matter) improve our writing lives? I'd love to hear your thoughts.


  1. Your post brought my thoughts to a standstill, Jen. Quiet, peace, understanding, joy...concepts we think of in words and maybe even feelings but not always in actions. I think this post - and your inner thoughts - do the opposite. Thank you for stopping me for a moment today.

    1. You're welcome. And thanks for sharing your thoughts as well!