First to say that my introverted self has found the seclusion required of this pandemic, for the most part, as “permission” to deepen the contemplative, creative path that calls. Still, there is the awareness of many for whom this is not so, and for whom much assails, and so sorrow and concern also sits with me in my chair.
Surely, if I were a medical professional, I would give my heart to that work, or to any other external ‘helps’ that would match my skills. And I do what I can with what I have. Still, I’m in my 60’s, and a writer and painter; the interior life and its expressions seem my primary ‘skill’. I remember Nadine Gordimer saying once, when interviewed during South Africa’s most harrowing season of apartheid, “In the end, the best thing a writer can do for her country is to write as well as she can.” I find a focus on creative vocational work as an act of solidarity and love for the world as a helpful approach – it keeps me occupied in a life-giving way, and I can name it as a kind of meaningful engagement. Even though its ‘effects’ may be less visible than other work. As I look at my bookshelves, the chosen distilled collection of favourites, I am aware of how helpful and sustaining – even orienting – these books have been. Even though I’ve not met their authors, they have been deeply good company, at times even a kind of ballast. And so, their solitary work has a shared life -who could predict it?
I am loving “Taken on Trust“, a book by Terry Waite – maybe my 4th time to read it, I dunno. It’s amazing to me. He was envoy to the Archbishop of Canterbury back in the 80’s, was taken a hostage for 5 years – 4 years of which, he was kept in a windowless room chained to the wall. During that time, he resolved to stay sane and to find meaning by revisiting his life reflectively – after all he had lots of time – with a view to writing a book. No pen or paper, he just processed for a set time each day, and held it in memory. When he was released, he took a year or so – I think – to ‘decant’ that story, weaving it in with his experience as a captive. He writes about a whole different kind of solitude, and finds life within it. I value the unflinching searchlight of “Taken on Trust“, and reading it again during the pandemic has offered an additional layer of richness. His long toil has unearthed a singular writing – remarkable really, how a book about solitude can be such good company.
Another book I’ve re-read is Marilynne Robinson’s “Lila”. I can’t possibly encompass it in words; she is a brilliant writer, and deeply thoughtful human. Suffice it to say, among the many threads the book weaves together, it’s about two people of disparate backgrounds and belief systems, who are drawn by love to make a life together. Their raw, respectful, broken, sincere journey fills the heart. The first time I read it, the words arose in me, unbidden, “I want to be buried with this book.” Goodness! I’d never thought of that sort of thing before. But my experience of it was so… hmmm… fulsome, and utter. And these days, to witness a respectful albeit difficult exchange between different ‘takes’ on life is sheer gift. It’s like a window being cleaned. And the view it offers is hopefulness.
Born in Saskatchewan, Melody Goetz currently lives in BC. Her short stories have been shortlisted twice in the CBC Literary Competition, and she is the author of a poetry chapbook as well as a book of stories garnered from a professional career in corporate management in an eldercare community. Her poetry has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies. She is also a practicing visual artist.