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Words Get in the Way

If compassion were contagious, they’d mandate a vaccine to prevent transmission.

I write but the words get in the way. Words, bombarding my conscience, breaking my heart. I write. I delete. It’s a release to let my fingers dance across the keyboard. And reassuring that I can delete the dance. I write more words and because they’re in the way, I stumble over them, fall, stand, close the computer and then walk away.

When I write that these are the darkest of times, words, sentences, paragraphs appear in my head with a warning: Beach Closed. Red Tide Present. This is an alert that perhaps I shouldn’t enter, continue, finish, shouldn’t write, because the words get in the way. It’s just that my life, compared to so many others, has been and still is wonderful, beginning with that unearned advantage of being born white. And not just this particular circumstance but these additional: wonderful parents who loved each other, who loved their children, fostered openness, and encouraged us to achieve whatever we wanted.

So, if I write, expressing my concerns about the world we’re leaving our children, the heightened militarism on streets where some time ago police officers who patrolled neighborhoods smiled at and talked to children, I know that for too many people, there’s no understanding here. Our situations are too dissimilar. After all, I never had to have “the talk” with my sons. Never had to tell them how to behave if confronted by a cop to avoid getting killed.

If I write that global climate change will control our children’s future (water shortages/scarcity, mass migrations), eventually destroying life, that carcinogenic pesticides soak our food supply, and that responsibility instructs us to buy organics, should I delete, delete, delete? After all, someone whose child has been diagnosed with lead poisoning might say the words that get in the way, “Climate change? Shut the fuck up? My child has already lost his future.” Or, “Organics? Are you fucking kidding me? We’re lucky to be able to afford enough food to silence the growling in our child’s stomach.”

If I write about the two US troops who died a few days ago in Afghanistan or the US-backed Saudi killing of children in Yemen, someone could ask words that get in the way, “What are you doing to end these tragedies, to end atrocities?” I haven’t participated in a peace event in years now, although the Women’s March on the Pentagon (October 21-22) is on my schedule.

This country, the USA, is the world’s wealthiest. She achieved this superlative through slavery, exploitation, war, and climate degradation.

I write, sitting at a table, looking out at gorgeous cumulous clouds. My fingertips glissade across the smooth keys. Then words get in the way.

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Missy Beattie has written for National Public Radio and Nashville Life Magazine. She was an instructor of memoirs writing at Johns Hopkins’ Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in BaltimoreEmail: missybeat@gmail.com

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