Thursday, September 17, 2020

The Right Books at the Right Time


Sometimes you come across exactly the right book at exactly the right time. A year ago, when I was in a funk and had lost my way, along with my sense of purpose, I read Elizabeth Gilbert’s book “Big Magic.” In it, she poses the question: “What is it you love doing so much that you would do it even if you didn’t get paid for it?” I could answer that without hesitation: I would write. The thing is, I hadn’t been writing; I had been moping. But her words prompted me to set her book down and pick up my phone, and within ten minutes I had enrolled in a writers workshop. The workshop ended up being a bust, but it had served as a catalyst by reminding me not to look for a crutch. I just needed to sit my butt in the chair and write. 

Two days ago, I was in a state of despair over the world. The corrupt, greedy, misogynistic (white) men in power, the ones who lie, cheat, steal, and bend our American constitution to their will to stay in power . . . these bastards dominating the headlines were breaking my heart so badly I was questioning my emotional capacity to endure. I cried so hard I worried I might give myself a brain aneurysm. But that evening, I arrived at my friend Kathleen’s to dog sit for a week. As Kathleen tried to console me, I happened to see she had Glennon Doyle’s new bestselling book, “Untamed,” on her shelf.  

I hadn't read the book, in part because I am reluctant to pledge allegiance to any kind of guru (or clergy of any kind), including writers who have been placed on pedestals as spiritual leaders or healers. Even so, I was on Glennon Doyle’s mailing list and stayed on it only because her newsletters were short, mostly news announcements, and so infrequent they didn’t clog my inbox.   

Glennon’s latest email contained a sweet, well-designed, animated video. It told the story of a cheetah in a zoo kept in a cage: Tabitha. Glennon was disturbed to see how the zookeepers had tried to tame Tabitha, and was certain that, deep inside, Tabitha remembered her “wild,” remembered “she was a goddamn cheetah.”

The video, which I had seen the day before my episode of The Great Despair, was a story from “Untamed,” and when I got to Kathleen’s and saw the book, I wondered if there was some cosmic intervention going on, that my bat signal had been picked up by the universe and was sending help. I began reading it that night. And I didn’t put it down until I ran out of pages to turn. 

In “Untamed,” like in Liz Gilbert’s “Big Magic,” Glennon poses a question: “What breaks your heart?” She writes, “Heartbreak is not something to be avoided; it’s something to pursue. Heartbreak is one of the greatest clues of our lives. The thing that breaks your heart is the very thing you were born to help heal.”

Boom! 

But wait, how can I heal a whole world? How can I take on racism, sexism, environmentalism, and the infinite number of other “isms”? The list is way too long!

Ah, but Ms. Doyle knows this is what you’re thinking—what I’m thinking—and is right there with a response in the next paragraph.

“Despair says, ‘The heartbreak is too overwhelming. I am too sad and too small, and the world is too big. I cannot do it all, so I will do nothing.' Courage says, 'I will not let the fact that I cannot do everything keep me from doing what I can.’”

This was my despair described so accurately. My sense of powerlessness to change anything, to fix anything, to make the world better—and by better, I mean less racist, less violent, more equal, more just.

“Every world’s changers work begins with a broken heart,” she says.

As much as I was inspired by “Untamed,” I didn’t, like I did with “Big Magic,” grab my phone and sign up to volunteer for a cause. I was still feeling too overwhelmed, too sad, and too small. And there are so many things breaking my heart that it’s impossible to narrow it down. Yes, I use pie as a form of humanitarian aid and contribution to society—to build community, spread kindness, and promote healing—but there has to be more I can do. I want to do more. But it’s just so hard to know where to start.

Author and Buddhist nun Pema Chödrön (another spiritual leader/healer/author) answers this conundrum with a book title: “Start Where You Are.” 

Where am I? 

I am at my friend Kathleen’s, in Des Moines, Iowa, dog sitting. I have pen and paper here. I have a computer. I have a voice. And I have the ability to express my voice through my writing. This is a good place to start. 

And I have already started. I am writing my “World Piece” memoir, about my trip around the world during the summer of 2015, when I made pie in nine countries to promote goodwill and cultural acceptance. In the process of writing it, I am putting the pieces of my heart back together. And who knows? Maybe one day, when it’s published, someone will pick up my book and it will be exactly the right book at exactly the right time for them. 

And maybe, just maybe—GOD WILLING—things will turn around after November 3 and we can fill the headlines with stories of honest, empathetic people who want to help others instead of only themselves.

No comments: