The fire crackled with life as it swept its way across a stack of manuscripts, greedily consuming page after page. Through tears I watched the pristine white papers transform into thin, black feathery curls that peeled off, danced momentarily with the updraft and then drifted resignedly down into the ashes.
I thought I might be able to rescue a scrap or two by pushing some of the charred lumps to the side of the fireplace, but my mother must have read my mind. She grabbed the metal poker and stabbed at the carbon-coated mass to separate the blackened pages; she was determined to destroy every remnant. I could smell the words in the stench of burnt ink that wafted around me. I was 14, and newly enamored with the life and writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder. This was my first experience with death.
“Writing is a waste of time,” she spat, her breath so laden with alcohol I worried the fire might flare if she got too close. Her eyes were bloodshot and her hair was matted against her head with the sweat from days of neglect. She pointed the poker at my chest and slurred, “Don’t you dare tell me you want to be a writer. It’s a pointless dream that will amount to nothing, and 40 years from now you’ll be a sorry loser, wishing you’d never started.”
She flung the poker wildly, just missing my head, and staggered from the room. I stayed there for hours, sobbing and staring at the black pit long after the fire died, trying to come to grips with the idea that every word, every sentence, and every page of every story my mother had ever written, was gone forever.
Today, nearly 40 years later, I am profoundly aware of the significance that moment has had in my journey. Somewhere in my heart, I believed her. I’ve spent the past 40 years skipping along the edge of the sea, yearning. Occasionally I’ve ventured ankle-deep, savoring the warmth and trying to imagine what’s “out there.” But I’ve never leapt with abandon. People ask me what I’m afraid of, and I remember the charred remains of dreams and the scent of unread words. It is my image of hopelessness.
That was the image in my heart this morning after I missed yet another self-imposed writing goal. I could hear my mother mocking me, reminding me that I have no business dreaming when there’s work to be done. Another failure. Who am I fooling?
But I cannot quell that constant, gentle song of unwritten words that calls to me above the din of the world’s demands. As is my habit, rather than follow the call, I tend to lash myself to the Siren of perceived obligation that is my “real job.” How did things get so backward?
Then this morning I read a familiar verse in the book of Jeremiah (29:11), and it spoke to me anew:
“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”
I’m reminded that I can start again and again, as often as I wish to, because I have hope and a future. There’s a whole big ocean of possibility out there and I’ve not even dared to snorkel across the top. The only thing stopping me is me. I can choose whether to listen to voices past or the voice of the future. It’s not a waste of time. It’s His plan.
And He says, “C’mon in, the water is fine!”
“Decide that you want it more than you are afraid of it” — Bill Cosby