All during the long holiday season/vacation I took this year, I have been mulling over the connection between memoir and love. Intuition tells me things that I can only later articulate. This has happened to me all my life.
I love the story, whether it be true or apocryphal, that Einstein saw himself riding on a beam of light before he was able to come up with the general theory of relativity. I too see visions, or more frequently, read something or feel something, that shouts, “Pay attention. This is what you are looking for! This is a clue to the meaning of your existence.” When this happens, I become alert as a beagle with a fresh scent.
My experience with writing has been extensive. But almost all the writing I have done has been instrumental–writing to persuade, to inspire, to connect, to explain. The Roman poet Horace said more than 2000 years ago that poetry’s purposes boil down to three words; “utile et dulce,” usefulness and sweetness. Today we might say instruction and entertainment. Or ethical and beautiful.
Oscar Wilde and other aesthetes exult in “dulce” and scoff at “utile.” Propagandists push “utile” and incarcerate “dulce.” Most modern literary writing values “dulce” most but has at least some “utile” motives, whether they are overtly acknowledged or not.
Robert Frost described the dream of making one’s vocation and avocation one and the same. I have that same dream. In some ways, I have been able to live that dream because I have been involved in two vocations–education and foundation leadership–that unite my values and strengths. I sense that I am ready for a deeper kind of marriage between these two.
Ever since joining the Fetzer Institute four years ago, and then again before my 60th birthday last summer when I created this blog, I began to feel one of those strong intuitions about my vocation of leading people and programs that foster awareness of the power of love and forgiveness and my avocation of writing, including the kind of writing (literary memoir? blogging about memoir? teaching workshops about memoir?) that allows “dulce” to emerge yet maintains an important role for “utile.”
“What is the connection between memoir and love?” This was the question that prompted my quest. So often, when I frame the question clearly enough, some new gift of words or image floats into my hands or unto my screen. This week, my answer came in the form of a poem of Wendell Berry’s in Wednesday’s Writer’s Almanac .
Thursday I told my colleagues, in program staff meeting, that I would be content to have this poem serve as my eulogy or even my epitaph. Children, writing, and work–all of them came from the same nameless place of Love. These Wendell Berry words about wordlessness stung me. I recognized the tears of truth:
The way of love leads all ways
to life beyond words, silent
and secret. To serve that triumph
I have done all the rest.