My perception of the world is shaped by one recurring idea:
We all desire to belong, to be known.
It looks different for each one of us, I’m sure, but time and again I see it play out in the most astonishing (and unexpected) ways. I stumbled upon it this morning at the coffee shop downtown.
I’ve marveled for months at the fellas I write about — how they seem to take a certain pride in the notion that I would want to write about them. Maybe they feel honored. Maybe they feel respected. I don’t know. At times, I am convinced they ham it up just to make it “more interesting” for me. And listen, they are about the funniest bunch I’ve ever met. I love their wit and random tales! But I always find it curious that they try so hard to give me something “good” to write. It’s almost as if they don’t realize that they are ridiculously memorable. It’s almost as if they don’t realize they are amazing men with amazing stories and amazing insight and amazing personalities. Or if they do know it, they have long stopped believing it. I think, in a sense, they are humbled by it (though you wouldn’t know it from listening each Saturday).
I met a couple this morning. It’s not the first time I’ve seen them, not the first time we’ve spoken, and certainly not the first time they’ve made it into my ink. We were introduced this morning, however, and I spent several minutes chatting with them and learning more about them, laughing together over the time their dog managed to get loose and ran into the cafe. As they were preparing to leave, the gal asked me if they had made it into the book — if they get their own chapter. It made me smile and offer assurance that there is, in fact, a place for them.
I don’t know why it surprised me, but it did. Suddenly everyone in the cafe seemed to be attentive to our dialogue, interested in the idea that someone was writing about strangers in a cafe.
And that is where I saw it: In the faces of people whose names I didn’t know but who were now anything but strangers to me, I saw a longing to be known, to be written about, to be remembered, to belong.
If we’re honest with ourselves, I suppose we all experience that yearning. Sometimes we call it legacy. Sometimes we call it belonging. Sometimes we call it remembrance. Sometimes we call it story. Sometimes we call it love. Always, it is a desire to not be forgotten after our bodies fail us. Always, it is a desire to belong with those we’ve shared moments with along our journey. Always, it is a hope that something about our lives, our words, our own individual journeys are worth being preserved — being remembered, being retold to future generations. It reminded me of a lyric from an old song by 4Him:
…and if the Bible had no closing page,
and still was being written to this day…
Oh, I want to be a man that you would write about.
Oh, a thousand years from now, that they would read about.
That is why, I suppose, as children we dream of doing great things. We read story books and imagine that we are the hero or heroin. We hear stories in history class of people who changed the world and we feel a sense of longing. We hear of atrocities and boldly claim that if we’d been there, we never would’ve silently allowed it to happen. We were created for this — for greatness, for changing the world, for making bold moves — all in the name of belonging. As we grow older, our spirits have a tendency to age, also — to become more “rational,” just as if we’d tasted the fruit ourselves and our eyes had been opened to everything that follows the loss of our innocence. It isn’t simply that we lose the purity of not knowing sin or pain or separation; it’s that we lose the reckless confidence and certainty of our identity as God’s beloved children. And so we grow old, and we stop believing that we can — or are meant to — change the world. We stop believing that ours is such an important piece of the puzzle. And we stop investing in one another, because we are too busy with “the real world,” like a 9 to 5, mowing the lawn, and balancing the checkbook.
And too often, we become so consumed with those things that we allow those we love to lay in rest before we even realize how deeply our souls belonged together. I’m not talking about eros — or at least not only eros. I’m also speaking of phileo… and agape. Whether your spouse, your children, your parents, your siblings, you friends, your neighbors, your teachers, your pastors… you belong with them, and they with you. When we fail to recognize it during a lifetime, the loss is tragic. We are left with regret for so many words left unsaid, or for not having spent more time together. When we do realize it during a lifetime, the loss is as my wise Wicket told me recently, “Oh my dear, I rejoice for my friend!”
I think about those men, that couple, and all the strangers visiting to celebrate their kids graduation from the University — that humbled longing in their eyes and in their tone and in their attention to “the Author,” and the humility shifted. How humbling that anyone — I mean it, anyone — would want me to write about their life. How humbling that anyone would entrust themselves to me, hoping to keep their stories — the ups and downs, the struggles and triumphs — alive. How humbling that anyone would use the words “the Author” to define me. How humbling to realize that when it comes to the written word, people still believe that having their name in print is recognition of having accomplished something in their lives, that it is something to be attained with pride. How humbling to know that they’re counting on me to do justice to their experiences and character.
As writers, we often feel as thought our writing is about our own accomplishment. And it is. We take pride in a story well written, because it is ridiculously grueling at times. It is ridiculously painful. We have to kill off words and sentences we may really, really love. We have to choose the most appropriate words and the most appropriate details. We have to determine what part of the story is the part that needs to be remembered. And so we own it. We take pride in finishing a project. When we do finish and we finally see our words in published print, it feels like the first day of Summer Vacation when we were kids. Writing is both gloriously high and gloriously low.
I think most writers forget from time to time.
Preserving truths and heroes in print… is not just a way to help others; it is very much a means of affirming to another person — whether the reader of a novel or a man who drinks coffee every Saturday morning and is quoted up and down the margins of your journal — they are not alone; they are not the same as everybody else; they are important; they are worth being remembered or thought of; their piece of the puzzle is necessary; they belong.
You belong, friends. Don’t disbelieve the importance of your life story. Don’t disbelieve the irreplaceable nature of your journey. Don’t shrug off that feeling of destiny, because nobody else in all of creation is able to do the things you are able to do. You don’t have to be the greatest to leave a great legacy. You don’t have to be famous to belong with those who know and love you. If I had all the time in the world, I would write your story — each one of you.
And so with me… you belong. I affirm your story. I validate your legacy. I vow to you, I will preserve as much as I can of your life, because that is my story.
My belonging… is that you belong with me.