Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Voiceless

     As storytellers, what we often think is that we are giving voice to our own experiences. On the surface this is true. The inspirations which we strive (painfully) to bring to life are often expressions of our own emotional, intellectual or spiritual responses to things. However, if we dig a bit deeper into the 'why' of it all something entirely different reveals itself.

     No one becomes a storyteller. You either are or you aren't. People may not discover it for a long time—or in some instances may never discover it—but it's there if it's there. And because we didn't create this within ourselves, because it is somehow intrinsic—a gift if you will—it means it has a purpose beyond simply expressing what we think or feel. This became clearer to me while reflecting on the lyrics to the Leonard Cohen song 'Hallelujah' (incidentally I believe it to be one of the greatest songs ever written—just thought I'd throw that out there. Here's a link to a performance of the below verse by Matthew Schuler). The last verse of the song says:

"I did my best, it wasn't much
I couldn't feel, so I tried to touch
I've told the truth, I didn't come to fool you
And even though it all went wrong
I'll stand before the Lord of Song
With nothing on my tongue but Hallelujah"

In so many ways this sums up the human experience. And while this may have originally been meant to express Mr. Cohen's own experiences, it has become for many a voice for which they had no voice.

     As storytellers we are tasked with wrestling with the truth and then finding a way to express it. In many cases this begins as our own search for understanding. But the gift we have been given, the ability to clarify what remains murky to others, to poetically, visually, musically or lyrically communicate—to mediate between God and man as it were—is, in the end, not for us. Why do we see the world differently than many people? Why do we often find ourselves on the fringes as opposed to the center? Why is it that we seem compelled to stand out with how we dress, how we talk or with what we do for a living? I mean who professes a calling to get up on stage in front of people and have them watch you do something for 2 hours and then has the audacity to say it's not for themselves, it's for those watching? We do. Why? Because we have been given the Great Sorrow of calling bullshit on the world's elaborate facades.

     Giving a voice to the voiceless, providing a way for people to come to understand those things which they somehow already know to be true but don't know how to express, looking in a mirror ourselves in order to be able to facilitate that honesty for others, that is what we are meant for.

     A final thought on the subject: there is no way to be effective in this vocation without the brutal honesty it requires. If we allow ourselves to stop where it's comfortable, to bask and glory in how apparently clear the mirror is becoming, we fail. To quote a great Jewish writer, "At present I know partially; then I shall know fully, as I am fully known." A time will come when we will know fully. Until then, make a gift of yourself to others and, inevitably, you'll also find yourself.