My employers recently held a training day for our nonprofit group’s volunteers and staff, during which we reviewed the right attitudes to strive for with clients. One of our manual’s pages reminded me there’s a difference between feeling responsible to someone and thinking I’m responsible for someone.
The first is possible and desirable, the second, not so much. Obviously, another adult has charge of her own decisions. I can choose to be there to listen, to empathize, to suggest options. But I must release the other person’s outcome to be what they make it, or, if you will, what God makes it in their reality.
I’ve been considering this responsibility concept in other areas. One that strikes me is my writing. Here’s a good question, I hope: How can I best be responsible to my gift as opposed to laboring under the delusion I’m solely responsible for my gift?
Writing, as we know, treats the humans involved in fickle ways. There can be wonderful, short-lived moments of recognition. I love a sentence from an essay by Poe Ballantine. He describes receiving notice that something he wrote was selected for Best American Short Stories. He hadn’t been sure his writing was going anywhere special. “But,” he says, “I figured that much of what happens in the literary world is a lottery, and I had been plugging away for a while, so maybe it was time for my head to bob to the surface of the sea of drowning writers, if only for a few minutes.” **
Ballantine’s quip makes me smile and sigh. On the one hand, I’m glad I’m not the only one “drowning” a lot of the time. A little voice in my head will often lament that if I’d only do more of this or that, my work would become…something. Recognized by more people. Helpful in more “real” places. Better than I’ve imagined it could be. So it’s good to hear that even if the voice is wrong and I’m doing everything I can, I don’t have control over the realities of 21st century writing.
On the other side of my brain, I’ve pondered Ballantine and nibbled my nails over whether or not to quit. Just quit. Shouldn’t I be responsible for my work with words and discern when it’s not going anywhere? Soon I may find I have plugged away at this stuff till life is next to over.
But there’s always been this ancestor on my dad’s side. His journals were found, long after he died. In the 1800s he pioneered with his family across the midwest. With pen he scratched beauty onto rough pages, sharing wonder at rock formations and the hue of prairie sky. He enjoyed his gift of writing and didn’t worry what ultimately happened with it. Unless he lay awake by dying campfires, chewing his nails in his bedroll. If so he didn’t say.
My point is I continue to be given a view of my lack of control over outcomes. And yet I decide again I will keep writing, taking steps each day on the journey. Being responsible to it. I may not get to choose which generation of readers ultimately finds and enjoys my words. I’m not in bad company. And the reality taking shape may contain a surprise or two more for this little head bobbing in the sea.
** (Ballantine’s full essay, Blessed Meadows For Minor Poets, is part of his collection, 501 Minutes to Christ.)
Deanna Hershiser’s essays have appeared in Runner’s World, BackHome Magazine, Relief, and other places. She lives with her husband in Oregon and blogs at deannahershiser.com/stories-glimmer.