Monday, January 16, 2017
You put your heart down on a page, the long excursion of your worries, your cracked skies of hope, your insistence, your chides, and then you put your name beneath those words, and finally you say: Here. This is for you. Take.
Yesterday at the National Museum of American Jewish History, in my city of often raucous love, as part of the worldwide #Writers Resist initiative, the words crafted by others became the words of Us, and by Us I mean the three dozen writers and producers and musicians and editors who took the stage. I mean the Us who crowded that standing-room-only auditorium, breathless and leaned into and moved. I mean the Us who came wrapped in the arms of parents and those who strolled or wheeled in and those who didn't know what they were getting into and those who had no idea who might come. Would anybody come? We were Us yesterday, and the words we shared belong to Us, and we claimed them, not for our own individual advancement, not to be a lit star, not to curry praise for our inspired performance, our own ingenious orchestrations of words, but because Us is the legacy we share, the legacy we must carry forward if we are to be decent and good and wide thinking and effective and, yes, that word again, inclined toward hope.
Forgive me, writers, but at times, is this not true?: We take the stage, we stand beneath the lights, and we want outcomes for ourselves. We want to be remembered for and as ourselves, taken seriously for and as ourselves, asked, for and as ourselves, to sign the books waiting in the lobby. Our books. With our names right there on the pretty covers. But that wasn't writers yesterday. Yesterday we remembered that our first job, always, is empathy. Our first responsibility is to slide inside the wrappings of others and imagine ourselves to be them, and so we did, and I will never forget the feeling that I had, the feeling that you gave me yesterday, of sitting there and briefly standing there, and transcending.
Thank you, all of you. Thank you, Nathaniel Popkin and Stephanie Feldman and Alicia Askenase, for bringing us together. Thank you, PEN America and Erin Belieu, for bringing the power of the word to the people.
Now we continue on.