“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.” ― Elie Wiesel
This is what I love about writing. Writers are so greedy for life, they live it three times: the first time in the flesh, the second on paper, and the third when they read what they wrote.
Writing is not only a greedy practice but a generous one. Beyond the third life of words, there ripples a wave of life as other readers take part in your original in-the-flesh moment. The writer’s magnanimity allows for this reliving.
You can’t be indifferent and be a writer. By living (and reliving) this life of words, the writer takes a stand against indifference. Each scribble is claiming, “This matters, and that matters, too.” It matters so much that I’m going to live it over and over again. It matters so much, I hope you live it with me.
I woke up on a morning recently when it was still the deep gray of pre-dawn. A nameless bird sang a tuneless melody of five tones: first three the same, followed by two that were both different, ending on the highest note. And then the bird would repeat it, over and over.
I lay there listening, not trying to understand. What’s to understand, except that this is a life and a song? This is not work, it is sabbath. The secret of life is in those sabbath moments of not having to be useful or successful or right or ever planning how not to be thirsty or afraid. It is in being fully alive – and not indifferent – to what is there before me.
I believe the poet e. e. cummings was on to something when he wrote poem number 53 that opens, “may my heart always be open to little / birds who are the secrets of living.”
In my non-sabbath time, when I am in full justification mode, having a reason for all my actions, I am what they call a “knowledge worker.” Perhaps that term is passé by now – I hope so. It basically means I get paid to know stuff, to understand stuff, to analyze stuff, and to somehow make decisions based on that stuff. Basically, I get paid to be right.
In the fresh wisdom of cummings – “…for whenever men are right, they are not young” – I get paid to be old.
And in this rightness – this oldness – there is a kind of indifference. We call it objectivity, but it’s a slippery slope to indifference.
By way of clarification, I do not mean to suggest that there is anything wrong with work, with hard work that makes us tired and long for rest, that aches our fingers, that makes us sweat (in mind and body). Such work is redemptive. Such work cracks us open to the secret of life, the meaning behind the job description.
And such work is rare, especially when we are old, or feeling old. It is nearly impossible when everything depends on our being right.
But if I were young (in my spirit, in my mind, my heart), perhaps I’d get paid to be wrong, to fail spectacularly – to make outlandish statements and extreme promises, to go to the edge of a concept and peer over it into unknowable possibility, to a place beyond simple declarations of right and wrong, to sing like a bird on a limb.
Perhaps I would be compensated for not being indifferent.
For me, this would serve as the perfect job description (a la cummings):
“Stroll about hungry and fearless and thirsty and supple.”
This noisy bird outside my window matters to me. I want you to hear those five tones. I want you to feel the soft heaviness of the deep gray of pre-dawn beneath flannel sheets.
And I want you to care about it. I want you to be “in on” the secret of life, and to love it.
If I can do that as a writer – care enough to prompt a caring in you – I have lived, and lived again.
Kelly Belmonte is a poet, blogger, and management consultant with expertise in non-profit organizational development and youth mentoring. She currently serves on the board of directors for Exeter Fine Crafts in Exeter, New Hampshire. Her first published book of poetry, Three Ways of Searching, is available through Finishing Line Press
Image Credit: BBC