Friday, 10 April 2015

You Know More Than You Think

A couple of years ago our family went on holidays to the US and Canada for two months. We felt blessed beyond measure, and soaked up every experiences like the small Australian sponges that we were, as if every memory, every airport and Starbucks ham-and-cheese sandwich, every street, every hanging traffic light and unfamiliar scene needed to be permanently emblazoned on our memories. We took photos, millions of them, and we came back home with a strange sense of having been altered, but not knowing exactly how; of feeling the weight of importance of everything that happened, but also not knowing exactly, what it was that was so important, or how it had affected us.
I'd felt the call of God to go, but on coming back I questioned Him. Why, God? I mean, Thank you! We had so much fun, we met wonderful people, had extraordinary adventures, did things with our kids we'd never dreamed were possible in this life...but surely God, surely it was about more than having fun, and making some great memories? Surely I need to...respond...somehow, in a way that benefits the Kingdom...? Surely, God?

It's an unsettling feeling, having emotions you can't understand, and a future you can't fully see. I don't remember ever feeling so full, and so empty, as I did when I returned from that trip, and I denied my emptiness out of a sense of needing to show my gratitude that such a trip had happened.

Eventually I found myself again, threw myself into the relentlessness of day-to-day, started writing again. Moved on with other projects. Finished a novel. Got a new job. Allowed the enormity of our two months away to sink into the obscurity of a handful of funny anecdotes and some beautiful memories.

And then, the other day, I started pulling out thoughts, notes and ideas for a new novel.

"Write what you know!" the experts tell you, and my head hurts at that thought, because what I know is dull, boring in its smallness. And when I search back over the deep emotions that come out of the depth of my soul the things I find are these silly, small stories of rich-white-middle-class-privilege, of being a tourist in another, rich-white-middle-class country. Who cares?!

It's not in a "suddenly" that I get it. The revelation creeps in over time, over months, weeks and days as I gradually allow the emotions to replay on the surface of my mind:
  • the sense I had, upon coming home, of not feeling able to acknowledge my emptiness and grief at returning because I had been so blessed and so many had never been, may have been a tiny drop of what my grandmother felt in 1941, bringing home one baby when she'd carried and birthed two. 
  • Losing my husband and youngest son for an hour in Disneyland, him carrying my phone, my wallet and my hotel key, with the knowledge that literally the only thing that could connect us again was prayer - that gives me the tiniest glimpse of some of the emotions my refugee friend may have felt when returning to his home village, separated from his parents, and was forced to march into a refugee camp in a neighbouring country.
  • Landing in Canada from the US and finding that I couldn't access the funds in my travellers VISA card, and the sickening realisation that the money I had on me was the only money I had - and without access to my VISA I couldn't buy food, a new SIM, or hire a car - that feeling of sudden trappedness gave me a tiny glimpse into what displaced people may feel, of a hardened world bent on going about their daily business without noticing the pain of others around them.
  • Not being understood, on my language being "different", and "wrong", and my choice of words leaving me misunderstood and lonely. For an Aussie girl from an Aussie family, whose background has only ever been English-speakers it's given me the first glimpse into what life must be like for those who come and have to learn another language in order to be understood, and who feel like they lose a part of themselves once they're divorced from their own language, their own culture. 
My stories are small stories, and I could never say to a refugee, a migrant, or someone who has lost a child, "oh I know exactly how you feel!" because I don't. But my small stories have given me a tiny germ of insight into what they may be feeling, and that empathy is priceless.

The other thing my small stories have given me is a whole packet of seeds to plant books in the future. Planted in the garden of my imagination, these little seeds can grow into characters and experiences I never could have imagined previously. I'm not sure as yet what shape of garden these seeds will grow into, but right now I'm planting and watering, and praying. And thanking God a million times over for His gift of these empathy-seeds, that I never knew were possible.

What about you? Are there small stories in your life that inspire you to write bigger ones?

13 comments:

  1. So good to see you are still processing those travel experiences, Megan, and working out their impact on you. I reckon that, just when you least expect it, a memory of that trip will surface in the middle of writing about some character or some event in your next book and you will be able to blend it in in one way or another. And then there are the deeper ways such overseas travel alters us and somehow enlarges us--plus the way our faith is strengthened when we find we can't access our funds as we thought we could or we lose friends or family members!

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    1. Yes, it's funny the way it changes us isn't it Jo-Anne. I'm constantly amazed at the process.

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  2. I so identify with your thoughts, Megan. As my husband and I prepare for another holiday overseas, I find myself feeling blessed and at the same time over indulged. Yet, all that you say is so true. I am always enlarged, challenged and inspired by what I see and experience and there are always ideas for stories that may be tucked away for a time but emerge when needed. I feel even more excited now about our upcoming holiday to Russia. Thank you.

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    1. Wow, Carol. We're excited about hearing about all your Russian adventures. How exciting for you.

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    2. Wow, Russia? I've loved Eastern Europe for most of my life, and have always longed to visit there. Hope you have a wonderful trip, what an awesome experience!

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  3. Megan, wonderful heartfelt post. Thanks so much for sharing with us all.

    What's that quote: "God uses the ordinary to do the extraordinary." Trust in Him. He's already done something special in you with your reflections on the trip.

    He'll take your words and do something that you perhaps may not think extraordinary but one never knows how He uses them in another's heart. And He is slowly transforming you as you write your "small" stories.

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    1. Yes, it's an amazing thing the way God can use all our little pieces in ways we never expect. Thanks Ian.

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  4. Yes, even those that seemingly live uneventful lives have the opportunity to experience much and share. Interesting post.

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  5. Megan, lovely post. It's interesting how our life experiences mesh with our creativity and help us form our own unique stories. Thanks for sharing with us today :)

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  6. Thanks Narelle! I love, too, how people may have the same--or very similar--experiences, but the stories that come out of them are always different, too. It's the infinite creativity of God.

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  7. Capturing real emotion is perhaps the most difficult aspect for a writer, Megan. And your piece did just that, it evoked many memories for me.

    Keep writing those 'small' but important stories.

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    1. Thanks so much Rita! I'm glad it's evoked those feelings for you, that's the highest praise for any writer. Have a wonderful day!

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