Sometimes a drive to the OuterBanks goes by like a dream, a quick flurry and six hours later we’re on the beach at Owens, waiting for check-in time down in Rodanthe. That would be summer. This is November, and my Beloved and I were both critically underslept. I drove the worst part of the trip—Greensboro to Raleigh—so that my Beloved could sit beside me with his knuckles in his mouth and his heart in his throat. This is good for him; it makes him appreciate his life and the fact that it continued past yesterday morning.
November, while it is not without charm, is not a northern beach kind of month. It’s not . . . warm. The town of Nags Head rolls up at six p.m., and that’s why we didn’t go down to Rodanthe. Six p.m. is GREAT in Nag’s Head; down banks, the towns rolled up in October. Here we have access to Harris Teeter nearby. It’s amazing.
We are on the Outer Banks because they are not home. As much as I love home, last Thanksgiving was one of the hardest, yet most precious days of my life. Next year, I will be able to celebrate it there again with all kinds of food-intensive hoo-ha, but THIS year, I have to make some sense of last year.
Since January I have written about 125,000 words in a journal. It’s kind of staggering, even to me. It translates to about 250 pages of a very bad novel, and it took the place of every other kind of writing, including this blog. Every morning, before I did anything else, I wrote 600 words. Oh, I missed some days here and there, and didn’t write much during our summer vacation, but for the most part, my days started with 600 words. (They still do; it’s such a helpful practice, I plan to carry on until they carry me out feet first.)
What were they? Mostly banal, to tell the truth: things that happened, things I had to do, things that struck me about the world. But they also have passages of transcendent beauty, the kind that comes in sunrise flashes and reminds me that life goes on and is still good. In some places, particularly last winter, there is a lot of anger.
I mean a LOT of anger. The surprising emotion I felt after Mom’s death was anger: not at her, or at God, or even at the things we said or didn’t say to each other. Just anger, and if it has to have a focus, I would say the focus was on the empty spot in me that would not, could never, be filled again.
As I looked back and read the words, I realize that a kind of dream has come out of the good and bad of the past year—my job as a writer is to give voice to the joy and hope that remain in the world. In fact, those things are worth more when thrown into sharp relief by grief and pain.
We suffer because we love. We love because that is, in so many ways, what we were made to do. I believe that the suffering is redeemed, and that love is always worth the risk. The brutal ocean out my windows is violent on its surface, but the things that live there are deep down. Life is brutal and violent on the surface, but the undercurrent is a choice.
I’ve come to the ocean, a place I don’t love, to sort some things out. (I’m more of a mountain person, because I like things that move slowly and don’t pound sand up your nose without provocation.) I may be pontificating beyond what the facts support, but I’m going out on a limb here and saying that the world was never improved by whiny, negative, angry people, who internalize every hurt and hold onto every pain.
So Looking at the World is changing its focus slightly. Yes, I’m still interested in observing whatever of the wonderful minutia of life that catches my brain, but I want this to be a place where you, whoever you are, can come and find something in your day to make you smile, wonder, and find some peace, or at least some piece of truth you can hang onto in the maelstrom.
Today’s piece of truth is: We become what we focus on. Let’s choose that carefully and intentionally.