not Harriet

I would very much like to succeed at misanthropy, but my attempts are constantly being foiled by all of these goddamn lovable people.

I am not a people person. I never have been; I never will be. I detest crowds, I find groups exhausting, and I will generally give my eyeteeth for any chance at 24 hours of uninterrupted solitude.

And yet, I spend my days surrounded by people – not books and notebooks, as I long imagined (the childhood fantasy of spending my days as Harriet the Spy was a particularly far-reaching one), but people: old, young, sick, well, quiet, loud, conservative, progressive, demanding, graceful, generous, stingy, hateful, gracious, beautiful people.

It sucks.

Of course, it is also endlessly fascinating. Every writer finds her material somewhere, and it turns out that Harriet wasn’t too bad an inspiration after all. People are ridiculously complex. Relationships and their intricacies unfold decades after you thought you’d had them completely figured out. These people who crowd themselves into my days and my brain, shoving their way into my self-righteous self-reflectiveness and forcing me to forfeit my perfectly pure sense of entitled self-regard…these people are incredible.

These people carry with them precious, detailed stories of crushing betrayal, unimaginable grief, humble heroics, uproarious absurdity. They are stories that you wouldn’t believe if you saw them in primetime, stories that even the big screen is too small to do justice to. These people are beautiful, and their stories are riveting.

I am a writer, gifted with all these glorious stories, narrative structure and comedic wit gleaming in their unbelievable reality right in front of my nose…and I cannot tell a single word of them.

These stories are not my stories. And, moreover, they are stories told to me in trust, in confidence, in the assurance that my open ear and my witnessing presence is enough. These stories are not mine to tell.

And still, I yearn to tell them. I want to tell you all about these women who have lost children and found it deep within themselves to transform wracking grief into good. I want to tell you about these kids who’ve watched their parents falter and fail, get sick and die and then figured out a way to convert their sadness into kindness toward others. I want to tell you about watching these fierce people wade through the chaos of mental illness and emerge on the other side, more graceful, less certain, inhabiting grace in a way I’ve not known before.

I want to tell you about the way these people will say YES to just about anything you ask of them, the way they feed one another and mentor one another and take one another in. I want to tell you about how last Sunday, the deacons who stood up front with the newly beloved friends just joining the congregation were the same people who the week before gathered in the same sanctuary to grieve their own parents.

I want to tell you about the ways that these people find common ground even in the midst of a surrounding culture rent asunder by political screaming matches and religious intolerance. I want you to know how they love one another, how they make room for difference, how they treat strangers with such grace that you’d never know they’d just walked in, that they’d never before had these eyes laid upon them.

I want to tell you these stories because I want to be a Writer. I want to make sense of the incomprehensible, and the beauty of these people is a thing that – try as I might – I simply cannot comprehend.

These people – my people – are beautiful. But it isn’t just their own gracious beauty that makes them shine this way. They’re lit up by something more, something divine, something Else, some hidden holiness that only makes herself known when they get together and practice the commitments they’ve made to each other. It shines, it shimmers, it beckons, it leads us on. Most of the time, I’m afraid, these people don’t even know how brightly they’re shining.

I want to tell you all these things – I want to tell THEM all these things – but I’m afraid it isn’t possible to be both present and detached, both among and set apart, in this hospitable world but not of it. I don’t think it’s possible.

But then, I didn’t think the gracious beauty of these people was possible. I didn’t think the depth of my love for them was possible. But it is. It exists. The impossible is here, quietly existing right in front of my eyes.

On the worst days, it’s like: here are some people; lead them. On the best days, it’s like: here are some people; love them. Can you even begin to believe it – that loving these gracious, gorgeous, fiercely gentle people…that this is my work? I can barely believe it. And I want to tell you about it. I want to write and write and write, to find the way to share this unbelievable, incomprehensible Thing, to name that holiness spread and borne over time and space, emanating out from these everyday humans, dazzling the eye like those colors from the impossible Prismatic Spring up there at the top of this page. Like color.

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