By Grace and Grit: living and dying, loving and writing

I write by grace and grit. I write for the love of ideas. I write for the surprise of a sentence. I write with the belief of alchemists. I write knowing I will always fail. I write knowing words always fall short. I write knowing I can be killed by my own words, stabbed by syntax, crucified by understanding, and misunderstanding. I write past the embarrassment of exposure. I trust nothing especially myself and slide head first into the familiar abyss of doubt and humiliation and threaten to push the delete button on my way down, or madly erase each line, pick up the paper and rip it into shreds — and then I realise it doesn’t matter, words are always a gamble, words are splinters from cut glass. I write because it is dangerous, a bloody risk, like love, to form the words, to say the words, to touch the source, to be touched, to reveal how vulnerable we are, how transient. I write as though I am whispering in the ear of the one I love.

(excerpted with thanks for every word she writes from the much-quoted “Why I Write” essay by Terry Tempest Williams, published in the anthology, Writing Creative Nonfiction, edited by Philip Gerard)

This has been a week of death and near-misses in my tiny speck of the planet. It began on Wednesday. Telephones ringing at 6:20 a.m. are seldom a good sign. I still had a toothbrush clamped between my teeth and was struggling to put on jogging shoes for the one-two-three punch of a treadmill session followed by a walk to the gate followed by a swim that has become my self-prescribed physical therapy for arthritis regimen.

I didn’t recognize the area code and was prepared to sharp-tongue the caller. “Hello? It’s early here,” I said.

“I’m sorry, it’s J.” This was no stranger, and I recognized the tear-clotted voice.

“Why are you crying? What’s happened?” I took the toothbrush out of my mouth and put it down on top of a stack of rough draft pages.

“It’s my brother —  A. He hanged himself in his girlfriend’s apartment. She found him at 4 a.m. this morning.” And then she wailed.

I can’t and won’t write anything more about this private tragedy. J. and her late brother are the adult grandchildren of a dear old friend of ours who died in 2007, leaving to Buck the care of his affairs.

Early Thursday morning, I left the bedroom and stopped off in my study to turn on the computer, then headed straight for the kitchen to fire up the coffee maker. I had just cleared the carpeted living room and stepped with bare feet onto the large cool tiles of the kitchen, when I heard a loud thud that I knew had to be a bird hitting a glass door in the living room. I feel sick when any bird flies into those doors. I hear that particular sound three or four times a year. Sometimes the victim lives to fly again, sometimes not. I expected a dove or maybe a cardinal, but when I saw that it was a red-cockaded woodpecker on the concrete patio, I felt dizzy, ill. The black head and beautiful zebra-striped back were unmistakable. I went back into the kitchen and stood for a minute, wondering what to do. If it were dead, another minute wouldn’t matter. If it were only stunned, I might frighten it even more by opening a door.

I stepped back into the living room with a full heart, knowing the bird would be still be there. And she was. But this time, her head was up, the black cap spiky like a punk hair style, and then, by God, she flew. No hesitation, just up and out of there. I jumped and whooped and laughed out loud, with a big “Thank you!” to God, the Universe, the Dalai Lama, and Mother Nature.

One was a person; one is a bird. I had no control over either event, but life is life. And it sure was sweet to watch that stunned bird fly away to live another day.

Note:  I’ve been away from the blogosphere for a few weeks. The writing is going well, though.  Buck and I are trying to meet some goals before our trip to Maine in September.  I hope you’re all having a good summer, and look forward to visiting and catching up with you soon. Much love, Beth.

7 thoughts on “By Grace and Grit: living and dying, loving and writing

  1. This is so good (and bad) I don’t even know what to say; except perhaps you all have my sincerest sympathy. Look forward to hearing from you anytime.


  2. Thank you for posting about life and death in your typically lyrical style. I know now that when I don’t see your posts, you’re writing, and I feel happy for that. I want one of the first books off the press, please. And would you sign it?


  3. I’m glad the writing’s going well; I’m so sorry about the friend, and I’m happy about the bird. Good to hear from you again, Beth.

    The writing life is choosing which bits of all of life to put in front of others, and how to, and then gaining that wonder from the formed words, yes? (I love the quote and may share it.)


  4. Wow, there is some power here, Beth. And most certainly, pain. I want to tattoo Terry Tempest Williams’ words to me. They are so real and true, and I feel gifted today having read them here. Thank you for writing through your time of death – for exposing us to just the iceberg tip of a tragedy.


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