For days, I’ve been struggling with how to blog in times like this. Blogging being the sharing of my thoughts with the world, and that becoming difficult because chaos, as it always does, was driving me to silence. When there’s a lot to take in, a lot to comment on, my reaction often is to become an emotional tortoise, tucking my opinions into my mind and waiting out the barrage of images, text, and videos on my soul. Then, I read Vinson Cunningham’s essay in the New Yorker while trawling the web, after seeing images of the horror in France and being unable to return to the two essays I woke up to work on. Of Obama, he said:
As is his [Obama’s] habit, he weaved artfully between one hand and the other—black and white, protesters and police—but the effort wasn’t nearly enough to achieve synthesis. He admitted as much in a line that flirted with despair: “I’ve seen how inadequate words can be in bringing about lasting change,” he said. Then, more to the point: “I’ve seen how inadequate my own words have been.”
First, that essay redirected me to a moment in time triggered by a song. Richard Smallwood’s Total Praise was one of the beginnings of what would turn out to be a love relationship between The Brooklyn Tabernacle and I. That song, somehow, was an emotional constant. For its duration, no matter how troubling life became, I would always be sure to be calm. The lifting of the eyes, the surrender, the rising amen at the end, was always like standing at the bank of a still, flowing river, and how it co-opts the soul to mirror its serenity. In listening to that song, the world pauses for a moment, and maybe, just maybe peace is possible.
In the days since returning from what was an intense eleven days of writing, of baring the soul and witnessing others do the same, there’s been an impossibility to articulate the things in my mind, to find the connection between the ideas flitting through it. This is what essaying usually is for me: my mind navigating its own way through my memory, connecting ideas and pulling them out for me to see through my pen.
This act often requires boredom, or at least to be engaged in rote labour that isn’t tiring, like washing plates or doing laundry, or sitting in front of the window in the room, watching the world before me—the street below, the neighbours, the jagged skyline—as if I were waiting for a gust of wind, something to come and cause a stirring of the still soul. Writing, for me, is a lot of staring, a lot of hoping, a lot of wringing of the hands, cracking of the fingers and lifting of the eyes to the hills.
When events like those of the past days and weeks occur, suddenly, everyone gets the impulse to say something—sometimes profound, other times stupid. Then there are those who choose to police what is being said, and point accusatory fingers at those who have chosen silence, forgetting that many do not find an inspiration for words in chaos.
Vinson wrote in that essay, “That strange link, between quiet and empathy, could be a solution to the language problem that plagues us.” This is at the end of a series of reminiscing: A president who quotes from John’s gospel, a mother who turns Paul’s words into chastisement. This leads me to remember the words of Isaiah too, a mantra from the Total-Praise-love era: “In quietness and trust is your strength.”
Peace to all who hurt; I hope they find strength in these times.