Reflect upon your present blessings, of which
every man has plenty;
not on your past misfortunes, of which all men have some.
It’s a good idea as a writer to step back from your narrative, dialogue, description and make a comment about life. We all long for wisdom – we want to be set right or awakened or turned up side down, if only for a moment, and we are happy to find tidbits of wisdom tossed into a work of fiction. Let’s take a tip or two from the Greeks:
The greatest griefs are those we cause ourselves.
Sophocles Oedipus Rex
We know this, don’t we, but isn’t it helpful to be reminded of in the middle of an extraordinary play. This thought becomes part of our take-away from the evening, consciously or unconsciously.
Unwanted favors gain no gratitude.
Oedipus at Colonus.
How often do we imagine we are helping someone when in fact we are just bothering them? I call this part of me Lady Bountiful, the part of me that gets thrills from playing the wealthy benefactor, often, it turns out, to people who are not interested in my help. Sophocles, yes Sophocles, can jolt me to awareness about this.
Philosophy tossed into the middle of the narrative stops the reader and gives us pause. Abraham Verghese, in his novel Cutting for Stone, offers this thought: “It was a sacred object. But for a four-year old, everything is sacred and ordinary.” We stop to think, is this true for me. Does my child treat everything as sacred. Should I?
Commenting on his wife’s remark, late in life, that she hates him, the narrator of John Updike’s “My Father’s Tears,” says this: “As well as love one another, we hate one another and even ourselves.” I read this and stop and think. I suddenly feel melancholic, hating to think this might be true of all marriages, of all relationships. The narrator has snagged my attention and won’t let go.
Hope is the deep orientation of the human soul that can be held at the darkest times.
Havel knows what he is talking about, having been involved in the Polish fight for freedom.
Exercise: Take a look at your work. Do you stop to impart wisdom from time to time? Choose a piece you are writing, or simply begin a piece in your journal. Half way through, stop and ask yourself, what am I trying to say here? What can I say to stop my reader short, to make her pause and reflect.