The past week or so has been all kinds of strange; the semester has somehow taken me by surprise with just how abruptly it’s decided to do exactly what I’ve been begging it to do for weeks: end. I’ve also had some weird (and I mean weird) dreams–the details of which I won’t get into here–but that have woken me up with ringing ears and a pretty genuine compulsion to start keeping a journal and pen and book light under my pillow.
Lately, I have been thinking about my field, and how I’m probably always going to have to defend the value in what it is that I do; the question of “so what?” just doesn’t answer itself in a field like professional writing or technical communication or, hell, fill-in-the-blank-English-or-writing-related-field. And sometimes, that’s really irritating because the value in writing has been so obvious to me since I was five (or however old I was when I started keeping my first journal: a playing-card-sized diary [it even came with a lock and key!] with clouds and angels on the front and thin, fragile pages that even my five [or whatever]-year-old self took special care to avoid tearing). But then things like the Boston marathon bombing happen and I’m watching video footage of the whole thing–loud booms and smoke and fire and screaming and everything–and all I’m thinking to myself is “boy, I’d be running the hell away from there real quick.”
But others apparently don’t have that same instinct; the first thing I notice when I first see the footage on the news (and then all hundred+ times after that) is the reaction of a lot of people on the scene immediately rushing towards the wreckage; what stands out most to me right now is an official in one of the grandstands nearest the first explosion doing what he can to direct a panicked crowd away from the explosion. Still, I also can’t seem to shake the images of the first responders rushing to the scene–some radioing in calls, some with guns drawn in preparation for who-knows-what-might-happen-next, some tearing down what is left of the spectator fence to get to the injured, and some wheeling (or even carrying) bloodied victims away from the carnage. And I’m watching all of this and thinking that my god, am I happy that these kinds of people exist. And I’m writing about it later on and trying to articulate it (failing miserably) and then it hits me that this is the extent of what I can do; I can write. I can write mostly about how sad and miserable and evil the world is, and how depressing it is that, hell, you can’t go anywhere without fearing for your own life these days. And that’s it. I can’t do a fraction of what any of these first responders did.
To an extent (a pretty big extent), this is true; as much as I admire and am grateful for police officers, firefighters, EMTs, and the like, I know that personally–in the exact same situation–I’d have been running away from the chaos instead of towards it. And because of this realization alone, I concede that I have no longer have any reason to get frustrated when people don’t inherently see the value in what I do. I don’t save lives. Fair enough.
But then this morning, I somehow came across a blog post from (of all people) comedian Patton Oswalt. He’d taken the time to write in response to the Boston attacks. And in reading it, I rediscovered the power of the written word.
“When you spot violence, or bigotry, or intolerance or fear or just garden-variety misogyny, hatred or ignorance, just look it in the eye and think, ‘The good outnumber you, and we always will.’”
And so I got inspired to read through all the blog posts and Facebook status updates and Tweets and whatever I could find from people who had something to contribute in writing to the conversation about whatever it was (we still don’t really know) that happened in Boston yesterday. And somehow, in doing this, my perspective on the world–on everything–changed. “The good outnumber you, and we always will” sums it up about perfectly, but also…
“The good is light and the lack of it is just darkness … There is nothing that will convince us, so many billions of people on earth, to be moved to that dark side, where there are really few obscure individuals whose actions confuse us at the moment, making us think that there are millions … But it is not like that. We will not believe it.”
“So, if you ran Boston on Monday and need a hug, I’m here. Because I need a hug, too. Let’s hug, and then let’s get out on the road and show the world what we’re made of.”
“Going to photograph this bed of tulips I had seen earlier in the day, I noticed that many of the delicate tulip blossoms had been battered by the rain — some were broken, others laid down, still others were cradled against one another. I could not help but draw an emotional correlation with some scenes from the tragic bombings in Boston just a day earlier. And yet the flowers, broken and beaten down though they were, were still imbued with beauty and dignity–infinitely more so the wounded and mourning in Boston. May God bless and keep you and all who mourn throughout the world.”
“In our extreme reaction we blame the extreme situation and forget the extreme need. These tragic events make us feel that a line is drawn in the sand and divide us. But instead of looking at one another with extreme disgust and hatred, let’s use that aching and grieving differently. Hope is found and fear is fought when our reaction is one of extreme love. Extremely supportive. Extremely together.”
I read these posts from people I don’t (and will probably never) know, yet they manage to give me hope (? probably not even the right word, but it’ll do). They manage to impact my life. And I suddenly feel more thankful than ever for the written word. For people who share their written words with me. For people who use the written word to get me to rethink everything and restore my faith in humanity despite how much I want to curl up in a ball and pretend I’m not even part of the same species as the type of people who would rig pressure cookers with nails and BBs and turn them into deadly explosives.
I guess what I’m trying to say here is that–at least for me, while I don’t have the guts of a police officer or firefighter or EMT to run into the face of danger without a second thought–I am enormously proud of the role I play on this planet as a writer. And while I don’t know what I’ll be doing a month from now, much less years down the road, I will exhaustively (and from this point on: without complaint. I promise.) defend the value of this work for as long as I live.