Could you live your life in obscurity?
Could you — would you — still write, paint, draw, sing, act, dance, compose music, play music, take photos if no one ever knew your name? Never discovered your art?
What if you somehow lost the ability to write or play the music you hear in your head? The images you see? The stories you imagine?
What if you were crippled by arthritis, lost your sight, lost your hearing, lost control of part or all of your body, lost your vocal cords or damaged them just enough to still be able to talk but not to sing? What if you started to lose your mind, and you knew it?
Would you consider your efforts vain? If you lost the ability to create before what you had already created was discovered, would you consider your life wasted?
They’ve become almost cliche, as many times as they’ve been passed around the internet, but these words* written on the wall in Mother Teresa‘s Calcutta orphanage still resonate with me:
People are often unreasonable, irrational, and self-centered.
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some unfaithful friends and some genuine enemies.
If you are honest and sincere people may deceive you.
Be honest and sincere anyway.
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, will often be forgotten.
Do good anyway.
Give the best you have, and it will never be enough.
Give your best anyway.
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.
It was never between you and them anyway.
I used to work at a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving the youth of the local community, and I posted those words often. Sometimes I’d catch kids looking up at the bulletin board or stopping outside my office window to read them. We didn’t discuss them much — kids will often absorb more via osmosis than they will by being lectured — but I referred to them on occasion when having to correct one of the members.
Had to remind myself, too, of the merit in pressing onward when life is bleak and there seems to be no reason to keep striving.
One of my early freelance newspaper articles involved an interview with a man suffering from MS, unable to physically write and barely able to shift himself from his bed to his chair, and yet he wrote stories by using a speech-recognition program on his computer.
A large writing group I once joined was led by a woman whose spinal and hip bones were deteriorating, and whose hands and wrists were arthritic, and yet she wrote in short sessions, refusing to give in to the inevitable.
A few years later, my critique buddy was a seventy-something alcoholic novelist whose anger and depression and regrets — the things he said he didn’t carry but which were evident in the stories he told — compelled him to write.
Via social media and e-zines, I have met several fellow writers suffering physical difficulties that not only impede their ability to interact in society, but also often obstruct their ability to write.
There was a long stretch of time when I, too, was barely able to function physically or mentally, and had to crawl back toward the light. At the moment, I’m in a greyness, a struggle with body and mind, that dims the light. And yet forward I must go.
Many creative folk I’ve known have been almost desperate to finish their work, “just in case”. One writer also painted, and wanted to leave a legacy for her children and grandchildren. Another wanted to tell her mother’s story. Another — one among myriad, I suspect — strove to fulfill a youthful dream set aside to raise a family and live her life.
Artist, singer, author, and speaker, Joni Eareckson Tada, is also quadriplegic, an inspiration and an encourager wherever she goes. The great composer Mozart died before he could finish Requiem, and Beethoven went deaf and became suicidal, thinking he no longer had a reason to exist — and yet he composed some of his most widely-recognized work after his hearing declined, including his Ninth Symphony and its famous “Ode to Joy” passage.
We cannot but create.
“We are all pencils in the hand of God.” -Mother Teresa
* Click here and scroll to the end of the page to read The Paradoxical Commandments written by Dr. Kent M. Keith, upon which Mother Teresa’s version is based.