What matters most in the end?
I’ve been told these are the only things that truly matter when we come to the end of our days–it’s about the people we’ve invested in, and the insights and values we carry. These are somehow our only true “possessions.” They make us who we are and will define the life we lived.
So our job now is to let these become the most important things to us.
It’s what we learn from the dying. All my great grandparents are gone now, and my grandpas too. One grandma died a few years ago, and not long after, my aunt, from a brain tumor. I’ve watched people die—mostly old, but some young friends too. And it’s always easier when they know their people are there and their stories are known, held and kept. They know they can leave because their people will live on. And their stories and the ideas they loved will be carried with them.
I remember earlier this year, I found the amazing book of John Steinbeck’s journals he kept while writing The Grapes of Wrath. And in them I found this quote:
“The writer must believe that what he is doing is the most important thing in the world. And he must hold to this illusion even when he knows it is not true.”
Finding it, I felt something in me shift. I’d always believed it before but never heard it articulated. Somehow, Steinbeck called it out and gave it language, and the truth emerged. One of my favorite writers, Walt Wangerin, says the deepest things that are true lie dormant in us and must be brought out of the wilderness through defining them and speaking them so they can pass into the promised land of reality.
Fact: this discovery of what we need when we need it in our lives is determined, guided and led by Providence. But do we realize this, that we don’t make anything arrive before its time? We can make opportunities for these things to come to life in us. But mostly, we can merely wait and watch, prepare and stay ready.
And this is the primary message of Advent.
I was thinking of exactly none of this when I accepted this job as a seeker of stories. I worked on my first books and sought the appropriate skills—observation, psychology, logic, efficiency, insight. But still I didn’t think it was that important. It was just another job–everyone has one, right?
I didn’t remember that Steinbeck quote, that this job was the most important thing in the world to me. But it is. It’s what I was made to do. To see these things and bring them out of the silent places—in myself and in others—yes, some part of me knew.
We must believe that this work we’re doing is the most important thing in the world, or we’ll never have the dynamic, creative energy we need to crest this hill.
But the truth is, everyone needs writers—every child, every woman, every man—to bring out these hidden truths that lie dormant in us and help them live what truly matters in life. Writers have all got to work hard at this occupation—for the glory of people and our most cherished beliefs and ideas. To fight to ignore all the distractions and take the time to share our stories and unpack their meaning and messages, this isn’t just another job. It’s the most important job in the world!
Because if we don’t do this, we will suffer, and our family and friends will suffer. And how else will we know love in the end unless we commit to our task and mine the stories?
If we abandon the stories, we all end up alone.
Whatever it takes, we’ve got to make space in life for the work, this occupation of ours that defines what really matters. Opposition doesn’t matter. The time it takes doesn’t matter. And it’s always better to have loved enough to try and to fail than to never have tried at all.
Surely you already know that.
Because in the end, as a writer, that is the love you get to show—to the people and our most important shared beliefs and ideas.
It is the one thing we can take with us.
For the wonder of this work and the higher purpose of it all,