Engage heart before putting pen in gear --
Some time ago, I reconnected briefly with a friend I hadn't seen or spoken to in about fifteen years. We had one long phone conversation; that was all. There was too much time between us. There were too many changes, and too many miles, for the reconnection to hold, but we did both enjoy our talk.
I told Libby that I had just been thinking about her, remembering an evening -- it must have been in the late seventies -- when we were at her house, cleaning up after a dinner with our young families. Libby was washing dishes, and I was drying -- but before Libby washed a single dish, she carefully cleaned out the sink. She smiled and said to me, "My mother taught me always to clean out the sink before I do the dishes, and now whenever I do dishes I think about Mom."
Now, on the phone, she said "Funny -- I always do that, but I don't remember telling you." That's okay. She didn't have to remember, because I did. When Libby washed dishes, she thought about her mom, and now when I wash dishes, I often think about Libby, even though it has been more than twenty years since I last saw her.
A woman in her fifties told me something her own mother had said to her when she was a little girl: "It's all right, dear. We love you even though you aren't pretty." Of course, what made the biggest impression on the little girl, and what brought tears to her eyes more than forty years later, was "...even though you aren't pretty." I'm sure this lady's mother meant to reassure her, but by her choice of words she did just the opposite.
I wonder how many things I've said in the course of my life, small, offhand remarks, have taken root in someone else's memory. There are people I've known whose names I can't even remember -- and yet, I recall something they said; I hear their voices, see the look on their faces. I remember kindnesses -- and hurtful remarks, too -- some of them my own -- and it makes me realize the importance of thinking before we speak. I would amend the dictum "Engage mind before putting mouth in gear" to read "Engage mind and heart..."
And here I sit, writing a blog entry, stopping to remove a word here, add one there, ponder the best choice of word to get my meaning across. Writing of whatever sort requires a multitude of such choices. Perhaps that is why we need to write -- not just as an exercise in imagination, but because it is our chance to slow down and say what we really mean, not just what fills the silence or keeps the conversation flowing. I know that, even though I enjoy books that simply entertain me, I truly love to read books whose authors open themselves to me through their characters, give me a glimpse of what they really think, what they really feel. At its best, the experience of reading feels like a heartfelt, honest conversation with the writer, and it is a privilege.