Thursday, February 6, 2014

The Words of a Stranger: The Power of Writing




I don't know who wrote the words on the yellowed pages that fell from the book I pulled off the thrift store shelf. At first I figured they were study notes, or maybe a simple to-do list, but after a few seconds of reading the nearly indecipherable handwriting, it became clear that these were the private thoughts of a troubled soul.

What should I do with them? Tuck them in my purse? Put them back in the book and leave it on the shelf?  It was not a current title and might never be purchased. What was the next stop on the journey for unwanted books?

I bought the book and the pages along with it and became their steward and a witness to the pain of one hopeless morning in the first week of 1996. The thoughts and feelings of a man who felt disconnected from family. Marginalized at work and in community. Who craved recognition and acknowledgment, but got neither. Who wanted to be valued and to make someone proud. Who recognized his deepening depression but wanted to try to tough it out without medicine. Who understood how some people, including the protagonist in the book I now held, would turn, on their darkest day, to suicide. He wrote of his one great love, a woman whom he had cast aside "like garbage" and the one he was now with, even while knowing there could be no future together.

I think back to my own life in the early days of 1996. It was a time of personal and professional promise. In a few weeks would come a rare Virginia blizzard, and Tim would purposely get snowed in with my roommates and me. There would be parties, card games, a snowy trudge to the local movie theater, and cooking together in the big, drafty kitchen. We were so young. A few months later he would propose, and the promise of a future together as a family became real. In the waning hours of that year, on a strangely warm December day, we would marry.

In the almost 18 years since, it's clear my life has not turned out the way I would have imagined or planned. Not that I did that much planning anyway. We had two kids not because that was the magic number, but because that was how many we had before the thought of having more frightened us. I stepped off the career path because I was able to stay at home with Jack and Margaret, but I had no real picture of what my second or third acts would be. And my own family relationships chugged along with varying  levels of beauty, pain and sometimes dysfunction. We stayed in my home town because it was all I knew, and the years kept moving past and we grew settled. Life happened.

And then the creek happened. And we were dragged to the depths of a despair and pain too deep for us to have ever imagined. And now, almost 2 1/2 years later, we stand again on dry land. Not because we are healed. Not because it's all okay, but because we have hope. It could be that our survival is just one more form of settling, more trudging forward without a plan, because that's all we've ever known how to do. But maybe it's more. Maybe it's a peace that doesn't come from us and our plodding, or from our strong wills, but from God and our love for Jack.

I wonder about the man who wrote those pages. His mind and heart felt no peace that day. No shelter in the storm. Has he kept going for all these years? Did he find help in the way of needed medical attention, acknowledgment, and healed relationships?

I don't know.

But I am hoping he found some release and relief in the writing itself. In turning his thoughts over in his mind. Of getting them down on paper. On seeing what parts of life he could change, and what parts he couldn't.

I don't think writing is THE answer, but it is AN answer. I know it has been for me.

41 comments:

Recovering Church Lady said...

Wow, that is kind of intense. I agree with you in hoping that he got the solace he needed in the act of writing it out.
Susie

Jen said...

Wow, I absolutely love this. I too wonder what happened to that man. And silently said a prayer for him as I read this. I too feel like my life didn't turn out like I thought. Even saying that seems a little crazy. As if we can really "PLAN" on how our lives will go.
I too feel some relief in writing and sharing. And so hope it will heal me and heal others.
God bless you Anna. You are a gift and bless me and so many others.

AmyMcC said...

Beautiful post Anna!

Pamela M. Steiner said...

What an intriguing thought this post started out with...and then it evolved into a powerful message of how life happens...and how God carries us through deep waters and back to safe ground...and don't we all wonder what others might think if they discovered a page from our journals written during our darkest days? Wow...this was deep...and I thank you for sharing it with us.

Joyce said...

Beautiful, sad, and inspiring post.

Carol-Anne said...

You're writing is breathtaking. Like, it literally takes my breath away.

And softens my heart.

Peg said...

Thanks for this :)

Stimey said...

Wow. I am so glad his words came to you—someone who was willing to read and think and feel about them. I hope he found some hope and I am glad that you have some as well.

Jack said...

Love this. Love You!

Jack said...

XOXO I love this.

Sybil@PeaceitallTogether said...

Wow! What an incredible story. I completely agree about writing. It is one of the ways I cope with life. Just to put the words on the page (or on the computer screen) is so freeing. It's as if it makes everything so much more real, puts a name to the mysterious. Your writing has been a blessing to me, and I know to many others as well. Keep telling your story...only God knows what comes next. XOXO

Lisa C said...

I tend to agree with your notion that we survive and move forward because it's all we know to do.

I just finished Too loud to see, too bright to hear and it was life changing for me. I will never view mental health as anything other than an illness and I have a new sympathy for people navigating their days under the cloud.

I truly hope your mystery man found peace.

Christine R said...

Beautiful (as always), Anna. I think your sharing of your story is healing lots of people. xo

ella said...

Beautiful post. Have a great weekend! xoxo

Japolina said...

Wow. This is a great post Anna. I think he is fine now.

Noelle said...

Holy smokes. Beautiful post! :)

SouthMainMuse said...

Beautiful.

Noah's Mom said...

What a great, profound post. My life, too, hasn't turned out the way I always imagined (like most of us), but some days I don't even recognize myself in the mirror anymore. But, I guess all of the detours, twists & turns in the road...have made us who we are today. I love your posts and I love you. Thank-you for sharing.

Anonymous said...

I'm sure I'm not alone in my love for the scripture about "when two or three are gathered together in my name." I feel like that quotation about sharing your story to heal and to empower yourself and others is a modern way of expressing that idea. It's been amazing to see you and your family finding hope in spite of a terrible loss. I agree that hope in God has to be the foundation, but you've also worked very hard to hold on to that hope, all of you, as a family.

Debby@Just Breathe said...

What an interesting post. Thank you for sharing your thoughts. I always love your writing and views. I have always found that at the worst of times in my life, when I struggle inside, it feels so good to put things down on paper and often move forward from the moment. Praying that he was able to move forward with his life. ((HUGS))

Adrienne Kerman said...

Oh, I hope he found some peace. I don't know if jotting down his feelings in the pages of that book helped him (although I bet it did to some degree) but look how his words compelled you, almost two decades later, to write this beautiful post which in turn has the power to affect and inspire those who read it. I love the power that exists in writing.

Anonymous said...

I too hope that the writer of the yellow papers found solace in the mere (yet important) act of writing it all out, and more solace as a result of having done so. For you, since you not only write, but have a community of readers, your ability to communicate your thoughts has the dual power of helping to give clarity, healing and solace not only to yourself, but to others. I'm so glad you do what you do. (I was aware of your writing's power before Jack's accident too, and believe that it has strengthened as you have grieved.)

love,
jbhat

Another Lisa C said...

Yes. Lovely. Thanks for sharing. And writing.

Galit Breen said...

Oh the writing on the yellowed page -- swoon.

And I'm with you, there's something cathartic about the writing, the creating, the sharing.

And yes, the hope.

lovely writing, as always, Anna.

Dina Ochs said...

Oh my goodness that was beautiful, crying as I read it, you have such a gift, Dina

Anonymous said...

This doesn't relate to this post, but when I saw this image I thought of your post titled "Mother of All Compliments" and I thought you'd get a smile out of it: http://i.imgur.com/uAbA8gd.jpg

E. in Vt.

Erin Margolin said...

Writing is healing. And I need to get back to it. To force myself. TO write it all out, even if no one reads it. Thanks for the reminder, and for sharing your heart,

Linda Seay said...


I read this post a few hours after finishing writing about 2 very difficult years in my life...for my adult children and, if given the opportunity, to share with a friend or someone who feels like they can't make it through another day so they know that YES, they can. My first baby was diagnosed with congenital heart disease at 8 weeks and died after surgery at 2 1/2 months. A year later, my father died. My mother shot him accidentally. My 2nd baby was born just before her trial began. Those years have haunted me...for years. I never dealt with the grief. I just kept going and didn't look back. When I wrote it all down, there was a peace and a realization that God has used the experiences during those two years to bring me to Him Who has given me peace. Thank you so much for your wonderful blog, Ann! I have been reading it for several years. You have touched my heart. God bless! PS: My mom was found innocent! And, my baby was born healthy and strong...then had another a year later. Wonderful life!!!

Anna Whiston-Donaldson said...

@Linda Seay, Thank you for sharing your story w/us!

Listen To Your Mother Spokane said...

I'm afraid this is going to sound terrible and selfish, but I really ... like? appreciate? when other people write about their pain or grief or doubts, whatever their struggle is. Because it's so easy to feel like you are the only one who feels those things. But, then again, I always assume they make it through without actually knowing. Love this, Anna, it's beautifully written.

Marinka said...

I believe in the power of writing. I know how powerful reading your writing has been for me. xo

LisaAR said...

Writing is definitely cathartic and can be healing...and so can reading your beautiful words, Anna. I especially love the line "Maybe it's a peace that doesn't come from us and our plodding, or from our strong wills, but from God and our love for Jack."

Powerful stuff, sister. Thank you.

Lady Jennie said...

I REALLY love this post Anna.

Anonymous said...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/ashley-davis-bush/dealing-with-grief_b_3716013.html

Saw this and thought of you. (Well, you... and my parents and family)

The writings you found sound a lot like my brother who fought his demons for most of his life. He wrote poetry and it's both painful and healing to read it at this point (he passed away 3 years ago in May).

Heidi Cave said...

What a beautiful post. I'm in awe. Gorgeous writing, Anna.

Rach said...

I love that quote at the end of your post. Writing is a very powerful tool--as you well know.

GrahamForeverInMyHeart said...

I think you might find the book A Tale for the Time Being by Ruth Ozeki especially interesting. The main character finds a lunchbox (which has washed up on shore) containing materials written by a Japanese teenager who is contemplating suicide.

Martha leone said...

Thanks for these thought provoking words Anna. I miss seeing you around.

Andrea Mowery said...

Anna, this is beautiful. What a treasure to find - someone's inner thoughts. I am so glad that you have found healing in your writing, and I hope that man did too.

Your love story sounds a lot like mine.

Meg said...

Anna -- I'm so very, very sorry for your loss of Jack, and appreciate your sharing in a such a real way. I'm encouraged by your faith.

"The heart of man plans his way, but the Lord determines his steps." Prov. 16:9

I'm looking forward to your book release! Can we pre-order????

Jana said...

It's been way too long since I visited your blog. I really, REALLY needed this post today. Thank you, Anna...and anonymous writer from 1996.