Words are powerful things, especially when they are strung together tenderly, with art, care and passion.
I think, often, that I really don’t know where I’d be without the words of books and songs. Shauna Niequist describes this eloquently in her book, Cold Tangerines. She tells the story of the birth of her first child and the song she was playing – a song called Needle and Thread. She writes of how much we all need great lyrics, great songs, art of all kinds, of how the words and creativity of others can lift us and bring life and soul to our day to day lives. She urges us, whatever our art form, to “Pick up a needle and thread, and stitch together something particular and honest and beautiful, because we need it. I need it.” I am so glad she picked up her writer’s needle and thread, because each one of her books has been just that for me: particular, honest, beautiful, and just what I needed.
There are countless other books that have been just what I needed at just the right time, from Ann Voskamp’s deep, transformative words about gratitude in One Thousand Gifts, to Laura Imai Messina’s hope-filled story, The Phone-box at the Edge of the World, which manages to be raw and sweet, tenacious and tender all at the same time. Then there’s the gentle humour of Alexander McCall Smith’s No 1 Ladies Detective Agency series, the glorious humanity of JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series, Tolkien’s epic journeys and Doerr’s intricate, sad, precious World War 2 story, All the Light we Cannot See. Not to mention the sheer gift of storytelling found in the work of authors like Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Betty Smith and Toni Morrison.
There’s poetry, too. I first came across Mary Oliver when a friend sent me her beautiful poem, The Summer’s Day – “Tell me, what will you do with your one wild and precious life?” – a lesson in mindfulness and attentiveness. And each of Oliver’s poems holds that same artist’s care with the words and their placing, that same wise simplicity, that same kind, challenging tone. In her poem, Wild Geese, I find words that have spirit and power. Reading it is like a standing in a strong wind. It rejuvenates me every time.
Then there are song lyrics, and the music that goes with them. Switchfoot’s vast catalogue of songs has always had the power to move me profoundly. Seeing them perform live with Andrew was such a lot of fun, and also spiritual, unforgettable. Other songs – like Needle and Thread for Niequist – have been there at key moments. When I felt vulnerable and overwhelmed by loss, I listened to Steady as we Go by Dave Matthews Band on repeat. Since adopting our two children, I am They’s song “No Impossible” has become my anthem. I never tire of Josh Garrell’s album, Home, or the song Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros. Iron and Wine’s Call it Dreaming makes me feel comforted and happy. Putting on music is one of my go-to coping strategies, but it’s also simple, human joy. Dancing in the kitchen with the children is still one of my favourite things.
So – absolutely – I am deeply grateful to all the writers out there. Writers of songs and books, blogs and articles, poems and weekly newsletters. You enrich my life and help me make sense of it, and you inspire me to put my own words on a page too.