“Everything vanishes,” says James Salter, “except that which is written.”
I stumbled across this quote, a simple, yet insightful comment on the human need to record the details of our world in a tangible form, to leave behind bits of ourselves for others to discover. And indeed, Archeologists have unearthed a vast cache, those written records of civilizations, on walls, in scrolls, the thoughts, experiences and ideas of a people long gone. Weren’t The Ten Commandments, engraved on stone tablets, believed to have been penned by God Himself? Aren’t Shakespeare’s works and the epic poems of Homer and Ovid still studied and revered, noted as a thoughtful glimpse into the nature of the human mind and spirit? And in spite of the profound changes in society since the dawn of mankind, this desire to write and to share the words, has remained constant. Perhaps there is no better way to track those changes, the shifts in perception about who we are and what we think. It provides a history, a way to look back at what is important to us as a people, often providing us with a road map to navigate into the future.
Life can be fleeting. In the blink of an eye, we pass from one stage to the next, often too busy to notice the moments, both large and small. But writing allows us to capture those and to share them with others. And if we are truly brave, we make ourselves vulnerable, we tell the world what we know and feel, what we have witnessed and how it has changed us. It is a chance to form human connections on the most personal of levels. Sometimes, we take those experiences, sprinkle in a bit of imagination, building a world that only exists in the mind of the author. The tales we write bring it all to life, inspiring and entertaining the reader.
But it is more than that. Writing is a stab at immortality. I often think of what I will leave behind as I grow older and get closer to the other side. Sure, I have an attic and basement full of “treasures,” things which my children will eagerly haul off to Goodwill after I have left this earth. But my stories, my journals, my (bad) poetry, will always be here, a chance for subsequent generations to know me in an intimate way. I find that rather reassuring, my legacy of words.
The Egyptians built massive pyramids to memorialize the great pharaohs. And many of the amazing manmade wonders of the world were created to pay homage to others in similar fashion. Artists create beauty, hoping it will be admired, appreciated through the ages. The desire to be remembered, to bequeath something worthwhile and meaningful, is within all of us. And so I will continue to write in the hopes that someday someone will read what I have written and think of me fondly, that somehow my life made a difference in theirs. I couldn't ask for anything more.