Ever since I can remember, I have taken to my notebook in times of despair. I remember the night of March 20, 2003 when the U.S. invaded Iraq, because after sitting in the living room with my parents, watching a foreign sky lit up in shades of alien green, I locked myself in my room and pulled out my notebook. I was ten years old at the time. There were tears in my eyes, and fears lodged deep in my belly. I didn’t know exactly what to say, so I just began writing. What came out was a fictional story about a young Iraqi girl, running from her home as bombs fell around her. I don’t remember much else about the story. All I remember is that it mattered to me more than anything else I had ever written. And somehow, it helped me to get through the night.
Writing has always been the place where I feel like my truest self. The place where my tender heart can be at its most tender, and not fall apart. The place where I can watch it breaking, and still feel, somehow, whole.
I have notebooks full of letters to people who never knew I wrote them. There were things I needed to say, so I said them to the page. Sometimes I wonder where I’d be if those words had ever been spoken, or shared. But the truth is, they weren’t meant to be spoken, or shared. They were meant to be honored.
My friend sent me a picture the other day. It was a plaque from an art exhibit she had visited, and the theme of the piece was solitude. “To transit a moment of solitude,” it said, “is to tarnish the ascetic soul. But to let it burrow in and remain private can allow you to learn and unlearn the lessons as dictated only by the self.”
I have done plenty of burrowing, I thought to myself. And my ascetic soul is very much in tact.
But it is also lonely.
What were the lessons? I wondered. The lessons I learned and unlearned, alone with myself?
What was the lesson I learned from writing that story about the young Iraqi girl? Was it empathy? Was it pity? Was it compassion?
What was the lesson I learned from all those unsent letters? How much I had been hurt? How I could have protected myself? How I had failed to protect, and to truly seek, those whom I had so desperately loved?
And what was the lesson I learned when there came a time to stop writing? When there were no longer any words to be put on the page? When I woke up on Wednesday morning and went to my people instead of my pen? When I took to the streets instead of my study? When I sent out donations instead of words?
The lesson I learned was that some lessons can’t be learned alone. Some wounds can’t be fixed by bedrest. Some heartaches can’t be solved by ink.
Our nation is aching, and there are so many lesson we have still to learn. So many lessons I have still to learn.
But when the time comes for me to open my notebook again, it will not be to hide. It will not be to dodge hurt, or quarantine pain. It will be to look within myself for the achings of the world. To look within myself for hatred, greed, and anger. To see these qualities for what they are: human, and eradicable. And by seeing them for what they are, to understand how love is the strongest weapon we have. Not love in the sense of affection, or sacrifice, or possession, but love in the sense of liberation.
Love as all the ways our freedom is bound up with one another’s.
Love as the courage to speak, and the courage to hear.
Love as tenderness.
Love as light.