Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and selectiveness peculiar to himself. . . . We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own. We are not content to be Leibnitzian nomads. We demand windows. Literature . . . is a series of windows, even of doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is “I have got out.” Or from another point of view, “I have got in”; pierced the shell of some other nomad and discovered what it is like inside.
In the movie Shadowlands, one of C.S. Lewis’ students quotes his father when he says, “We read to know we’re not alone.” I’m not sure if that line flowed from the mind of some philosophic scriptwriter or whether it has biographical basis, perhaps even from Lewis’ own writings, but it is a truism nonetheless. There is within all of us a desire to link minds and hearts with others—to know we are not alone in this vast world of like and unlike.
Sometimes I read well-crafted words that put into one succinct thought an impression that before only floated round the edges of my mind, without form. Those words give exact shape to my thought—help me say what I could not say, only feel.
Sometimes a truth leaps off the page and finds a roosting place in my receptive mind. I have never thought this way before, but it suits. I embrace the truth as a companion. I own it. It is at home—a part of other thoughts that are making me.
Sometimes I read words that parallel exactly how I think about things. The author and I are walking in matched steps—no hitches, step for step. I feel kinship, a knowing that this person has walked where I’ve walked, is standing where I stand. This human heart resonates with the beat of my own, and I am not alone in the universe.
Books go back on shelves, but many sing a siren song, calling to be read again and again. Such is a friend to finger and cherish over tea—live, pithy food. Words labored over in a far off cloister by some lonesome wordsmith have found a broader world in me.
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Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious. When you’re conscious and writing from a place of insight and simplicity and real caring about the truth, you have the ability to throw the lights on for your reader. He or she will recognize his or her life and truth in what you say, in the pictures you have painted, and this decreases the terrible sense of isolation . . .
I write to know I’m not alone. I am a fisherman sending out hooks with thoughtful bait. Line upon wriggling line skims the water, sinking deep; then, the long finger-biting wait to see if anything comes back. Did I hook someone?
It’s not, did I sell meaningless page fillers to the constantly hungry monster of consumerism that skims and scans and tosses aside? It’s not, did I make a few dollars to add to the coffers that fund my Starbucks addiction? I write to send a distinct call to like-minded intellects, passionate hearts, and hungry souls. Do you see what I see? Can I show you what I’ve learned? Do you feel the longing to connect—to share in the “ah-ha?” Can you see through the window of my nomadic soul and be changed as I am being changed?
Word on word, line on line, strong words on lifeless fragile pulp—essence poured into the mold of pages. Letters inconsequential yet sequential, rearranged, deleted, retrieved over and over till the message reads clear—time looking over my shoulder.
Fear of criticism causes pause—rejection sniffs around the corners of my self-confidence, and I’m tempted to hide. I could safely file things away and wait for yellowing brittle papers to be discovered posthumously in dusty drawers—a romantic thought. But I am no aesthete. I love the creation, but not for creation’s sake alone. I want my words to rub shoulders with someone; to sidle up and get comfortable with someone; to nourish someone’s soul hunger. Perhaps valued, perhaps not—that’s the great risk.
As in a small room of a small house, I read to view a life that is larger than my own; I write to know that I do not breathe and move in isolation. I paint a canvas of words not just to decorate a shelf but to make meaningful difference—to reach out fingertip to fingertip to unknown pilgrims in a fallen world.
I read to know.
I write to be known.
To know that I am not alone.