I’ve seen many emails and social media posts reviewing 2020, capturing the highlights of the year. But the task feels insurmountable to me. There are some things that happen in my life that are so big, so overwhelming and overbearing, that I don’t even know how to make sense of them. Maybe this will finally break me, I think. Maybe I should finally see a psychologist who can make this right before it creates too much subconscious gunk. (Thanks, Freud, for freaking me out.)
Then I find myself with the powerful urge to write.
Because writing forces me to make sense of all the huge vagueness. Writing puts it in a box. Go ahead, in 500 words, make a point, with an obvious takeaway. And I do, and I read it back to myself 100 times, and each I’m like, Yes! Life really DOES make sense after all! Phew.
That’s one of the advantages of writing: it forces me to take a long view of the occurrences of our lives, and infuse them with shape and meaning.
Then others will read what I have written and perhaps it can give them words, a focus, a name for the fog that surrounds them too. Because we all have our fog, you know, and maybe my making sense of my fog can give shape and clarity to the fog of others. L’chaim! To fog.
Researcher Brene Brown asserts that shame thrives in secrecy, and it is the telling of our stories that pulls them out of the Scary Closet and holds them up to the light of day where they shrink to a manageable size. Where do the looming shadows go when you flick the lights on? In an instant, gone.
But then there are times when my life is too much to write about. And it’s not just my story anymore, it’s someone else’s story too, and I can’t tell it, because they deserve their privacy and their dignity. There I am, fingers on the keyboard, the magic words just hovering beneath my fingertips, and I just can’t do it. The words wait to be called, as in a doctor’s waiting room. “Koval? You’re next.”
I love reading memoirs, and boy, would I have a tantalizing one to tell, but I’ve never understood how people tell the secrets of their loved ones. I’m sure there are Ted talks and Masterclasses and webinars and New York Times bestselling self-help books on this (“How to write your memoir without getting divorced or cut out of the family fortune! 12 things to know before you start”), but still. How?
Chassidic master Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Kotzk famously said, “All that is thought should not be said, all that is said should not be written, all that is written should not be published.”
I write for myself just as much as for anyone else, but some things are simply too unwieldy to containerize. Maybe you can capture the tiger and put him in a cage, but should you? Wild things are meant to run free. Not everything is intended to be understood, notwithstanding Socrates’ assertion: The unexamined life is not worth living. Maybe I can examine it silently, privately, with no expectations of comprehension. Not everything is “capturable.”
The bigness may scare me, but maybe I should respect its power. The meaning may elude me, but maybe it’s just as much about the process as the product. The story may ever remain tingling beneath my fingertips, but that’s how stories are. They’re never really over. There is no “The End!” written in cheery Disney script. Endings are for fiction. So, that’s okay. I am strong. I am resilient. I am Ruchi, hear me roar.
It is the examination and the boxing-up of the bigness that gives me solace, but the huge expanse of “that-which-cannot-be-understood,” oddly, reassures me too. Life is an ocean, and I stand by the shore, dipping my toe in its waters, the vast expanse surpassing my ability to comprehend. Something about that, that life is way bigger than me, makes me feel safe.
The universe is wiser than me, and its stories are both incomprehensible and as old as Time itself. There’s safety in that hugeness. I am a small child, with limited understanding, and I lean in to that hug as it wraps its big arms around me, like a large, soft grandmother who smells like cinnamon. God has the plan, and I don’t, but I am comforted to know that there is a plan. I couldn’t respect a God I fully understood.
I don’t have to make sense of it all. I don’t have to understand it all. And neither do you. Happy 2021! Bring it on.