Why words matter…
But if we fail, then the whole world, including the United States, including all that we have known and cared for, will sink into the abyss of a new dark age made more sinister, and perhaps more protracted, by the lights of perverted science. Let us therefore brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth[e] last for a thousand years, men will still say, "This was their finest hour."
~ Winston Churchill
No less than the soldiers tasked with storming the beachheads of France in World War II, we are all living through an epochal event in human history. Nothing in my sixty-two years of life comes remotely close. The pandemic is not a storm on some other shore; it is not a drought in some arid county or backwater village; it is not a political upheaval in some far-off nation—and it is not a time to put our heads in the sand and our asses to the sky. It is a challenge—a massive challenge—a challenge that is effecting and transforming the entire world, and it is upending and re- tasking the daily, normal lives of billions of people. You are, by dint of fate, simply one of the many, but no less than the trees and stars, you have a right to be here and you have an obligation for your voice to be heard and recorded in the incessant book of time.
Some day, your own children will, no doubt, ask you what life was like during the “Pandemic of 2020” (or whatever term history will use to record this time). Trust me: memory is not as airtight and impregnable as one might hope. Time, left to itself, dulls the edges and blurs the margins; it magnifies the trivial and diminishes the meaningful. In the end, memory is a fine and broad canvas, but an unwieldily and imprecise tool. Words, however, are the chisels in our hands that cuts the stones into an enduring testament to humanity. Our humanity.
The written word is the holy grail of smoking guns—the nuggets of gold sifted from the screed of ore. We can record in words the entirety and enormity of this time in our collective lives. You can show your children—and the countless generations that follow your children just “how” you lived in the light and dark of this moment—how you spent your days, what you did with your days and nights, what you were thinking about, how your family did things together and managed things together and apart… Your children will no doubt be amazed at how seemingly normal and magnanimous your life was at this time—how you still did normal things in the midst of abnormality, but also how some people, including you, responded to challenges in profound and perfect ways. While some didn’t.
But you can say, “What I did do was write.” Indefatigably. You kept on learning; you kept on reading, and you constantly adapted to new realities. How you did all this will become a cherished memory and a heirloom for your family—even if right now it seems as dull as a doornail! In a real and palpable way, what is dull now will one day be the rough, honest and poignant gems of memory. Let time do the polishing. It always will. Let today be simply words scratched on an empty page.
I write every day, but I don’t say this proudly or boastfully. I write simply out of habit—one of the few good habits I have. Writing is, and has been for over forty years, my way of playing a sometimes desperate game against life and a crapshooters play against the odds. I tackle each day before it crosses the goal line before me. In my way of playing the game, no day gets ahead of me, no reality beats me at my game, and I am never defeated. I beat each day back into words—muddy, dirty and tired words, but words nonetheless—and words make stories and stories give meaning and meaning gives purpose and purpose builds grit and grit builds strength and strength empowers us to tackle any challenge—and everything hard in life is a story of facing challenges—and a story worth telling.
So write, damn it, write!