I’ve just finished reading a beautiful memoir by Dani Shapiro entitled Devotion.
What wonderful writing. I found myself caught up in the language and the mood as much as the story, as if I could just read her work for the writing only. It’s so evocative, it felt as if I were right there in the room with her, walking in the woods and down NY streets, smelling the atmosphere, feeling what she was feeling, as if I were inside her skin. It reminded me of how good writing connects when one would think there’d be none. Ms. Shapiro and I have little in common, she being happily married with a young son and a successful writing career. She’s even been on Oprah! I’m still thinking about writing and being married, and at a much later stage in life than she is. What we may have in common is walking the path of “difference” here in America, she being Jewish and me black. She writes eloquently about exploring the heritage she’d left behind that made me feel somehow not just a sense of reverence for her faith but a connection beyond faith traditions.
And some of her lines I’d just love to steal for my own, like “I was longing for the moment I was in, even as I was in it.” What an exquisite comment. Or, “I was lonely for myself.” I’ve certainly felt that, even if the words didn’t come to me at the time.
One thing that stood out for me was being able to read her story, her very intimate journey of seeking for spiritual meaning, an understanding of God, of life, of dealing with life’s struggles and not hearing myself comparing hers to mine. No thoughts of how she’d feel differently if only she knew this or had read that, if only she knew what I think I know. I felt this wonderful connection with someone living out from what she knew already, and being open to experiment and introduce some new things. I was gaining the insight, the appreciation that we’re all doing that same thing, regardless of circumstances, of birthright, of faith, or no faith tradition.
We don’t get to choose our situations, the hands we’re dealt, but we each get slammed up against walls as she was and find we have to dig deeper to learn how to play those cards we’re given. I didn’t need to feel better or worse about her path vs. mine, I didn’t need to evaluate it, or consider what “I would have done”. I could just watch her saga unfold, the layers of understanding reveal themselves and feel connected to the process, the unraveling of mystery we’re all experiencing.
Every blade of grass, every seed, every living thing has the same goal, to develop and blossom, move toward light and understanding. Some crawl like crabs some seem to soar like eagles. It doesn’t matter if the paths are different, it only matters that we get there, that we understand there’s a path, a yellow brick road we have to tread.
I was reading from my perch like a cheerleader, for her, for myself, that we each come to fruition. We all spend so much time with fingers pointing at each others paths, lifestyles, beliefs, behavior, even the right of some to be! Reading of the struggles and triumphs she shares with each of us in so many ways brought me to a new level of compassion. We’re all just working it out the best we can with what knowledge and understanding we have, at this moment.
This book helps me focus my own writing. A while back I took summer writing courses at the University of Iowa, and happened to be in a class with Mary Pipher, just before Reviving Ophelia made her a famous. We had lunch and she insisted I had to write, that I had something to say. At the time I wasn’t sure what she was seeing. Perhaps she wanted me to write about things I’d been avoiding, like all the “things” that had happened to me, or my life as a black woman in America. Perhaps she wanted to hear about how the babies were mixed up in the hospital and I’d been deprived of my royal birthright and kept in the basement for years, fed on bread and water, until saved by aliens from a strange planet who wanted to use me to study earth creatures! Just kidding.
So, for years I didn’t write because none of it made sense to me. And then Dani’s book made it clear, my life as I’ve finally accepted it, has not been about becoming rich and famous, accumulating accolades, or overcoming tragedy so much as it’s been about searching, in a very active, conscious way. The search for meaning, what’s IT all about. And why. What I do know is that even a life about becoming, accumulating or overcoming, is ultimately about this journey. Like a stage play, the setting is just props for the revelatory story.
Thanks Dani Shapiro!
To be continued…