I have a small clay figure on my study window sill, a gift from a dear friend. The figure stands tall, head held high,arms stretched wide, open to the world. Three blue birds perch on her shoulders. My friend said it reminded her of me. I laughed on the outside, but wept on the inside. No, that’s not me. This girl, this woman, most often crosses her arms across her body, and while my head might not be down, it is rarely tilted up toward the sky. More likely, my gaze is focused straight ahead, on the very next two steps that are necessary. Necessary and safe.
I was reminded of this when I read a post this morning by a former student. Some years ago, he lost a younger brother. My student wrote he hadn’t allowed himself to dwell on those memories. He pushed them deep, deep inside. He didn’t talk about his brother. He didn’t say his brother’s name. The best plan, he decided, was to “act” as if everything was okay. And so he walked carefully, wrapped up in his sorrow, afraid that one misstep on his part might bring about more pain. “I remember feeling so scared I would lose even more, that I lived life like I was walking on eggshells,” he wrote.
Yeah, I know that way of living. But with time and work and lots of prayer, most often our arms can unfold, our heads rise, and the pain eases. The thing is, though, that until we stretch our arms wide and open ourselves fully, we are not really living. We, like my student, are acting as if everything is okay.
And so often, we approach our writing in exactly the same way. We feel the need to write. We want to write. But it’s hard. It hurts. So we keep some part of us protected, wrapped within our core, locked up, pushed back. And that is not really writing. To be real, to really write, we must be able to lift our heads and spread wide our arms. We must be willing to dredge up those memories, call them by name, admit everything was and is not always okay. We must be brave enough to crush those eggshells.
And if we do this, one day, perhaps, those blue birds will light on our shoulders.
(I am proud of you, Caleb.)
Sandy Richardson is the author of The Girl Who Ate Chicken Feet and a member of the Sumter Chapter. For more information, visit her website.
This post appeared on her website in 2015.