My very good friend Hilary Sherratt and I took up a practice about a year ago to write each other each week. On Tuesdays I post a letter to Hilary here and she responds to it over at her space on Thursdays. We are our raw, honest selves here in front of you, as we would be in the messages we send back and forth in private. See Hilary's most recent letter that I'm responding to today here. Dear Hilary,
Why do you, Preston? Why do you write?
This is what you've charged me to answer.
There was a time, long ago, when I stood on a porch somewhere and told someone all the things I wanted to be: a writer, a chef, a forensic anthropologist (this was when CSI was a thing), a teacher, a theologian. I remember the reply was a rebuke, that no one got to be different things but only one thing. Narrow minded, such a tiny perspective of the world when I look at it plainly now, but I grant that it was all of the world they knew. They were, within the confines of their known, trying to make sense of things.
But here I am, in graduate school in theology with books and a very active cooking life and maybe a bakery someday and maybe a PhD next year--I'm applying, did I tell you? This is part of keeping the door open and waiting to see if the wind, if Holy Ghost, should blow through it--and it seems that I have been able to do all these many things I wanted. Except exhume bodies. (I suppose in every life there is a little sadness and what-might-have-been.)
Why tell you all that? It seems abstraction. I'm trying, though, to get at something about who I am fundamentally. To talk about why I write is to talk about why I ship one of my best friends children's books when he's having a rough time or why I spend half an afternoon perfecting the taste of a cocktail: because I believe God is looking to be encountered in every single moment of our lives and that all we need to do is look for Him.
I write because it is an act of translation. I have encountered God, the extraordinary, jarring God, and I am trying to feebly work out what it means to share that with others. Translation. That's what this is truly about. It's about trying to convey what seems beyond words, that there is a blessedness to the ordinary and the ever day.
I translate all this because it arrests me. Because I have said elsewhere that I am a miserable Christian to have been given so much talent. There's no false humility in that, I don't think, but a simple assessment of the facts: I have such a graceless heart to be able to see such beauty. I am convinced, I remain convinced, that there are others who would spend these gifts far better than I. So I translate. For perhaps, I think, if they could see or hear or taste or feel, the world in their hands could be the most extraordinary of places.
I'm getting at it, I think. Though this is fragmented.
Smetana gets at it in his "Vitava," which sounds like the Trinity in dance. And Hopkins, in his verse. Others, countless others. Why did they do it? Why do any of us do it except that we cannot live without doing so? Because we love. Isn't that or should it not always be why? Because we love wild.
It's because of that night when he, the one who is more talented than I am, but afflicted by a fallen world, not by choice--it's because of that night when he and I sat in his truck outside where I lived and for three hours I told him over and over that God loved him, was present, was near. Not because he didn't know. Not because he had not understood. It was because there was a point in which I said I would not get tired of doing the remembering for us, so I filled his walls with painted icons and lined his shelves with bottles of wine that were cosmoses of conversations and I repeated the old and true things again and again that night until he told me it was enough, that he could go home and fall asleep.
This is why, Hilary. Because for a reason that could only be an accident of Providence, I chanced to have eyes to see and ears to hear and the only thing I manage well with that is to put it in the service of others. I write as an act of translation, because I have seen beauty, because I have seen beauty and have been left still in my struggles and my failings. But for the sake of others, for the sake of those who need reminding, for the ones that should they remember, should weave more beauty than I should ever hope to create, I shall write on. I shall turn the words. I shall repeat for three hours that God loves, is present, is near, until the very last of them says it's enough, that they can go Home, that they can go to sleep.