As writers, we have words we can spare. Words that arise from the wellspring of our love of, in service of our love for. Words that bring our inner light to the outer life.
“I have some food I can spare,” is a phrase used in gift economies when a person offers a gift without the expectation of a reciprocal gesture. However, according to Lewis Hyde, author of The Gift, the gift is made with the understanding that the recipient will share the gift with yet another person. In other words, the spirit of the gift lives on through the relationships developed by its constant donation.
To write is to see our love in motion. To write is to dig into depths beyond ourselves. Our pen touching page is the convergence of many forces; a coming together of circumstances we created and those we acquired via blood, history, culture, imagination, or fate.
As writers we’re the keepers of a powerful digging stick. This digging tool is our pen, pencil, or the modern equivalent of our computer. A digging stick reveals, as does a pen. It penetrates. Tills. Stirs. Stimulates. Carves. Arranges. Yields. It breaks up clumps of concealed potential. It exposes the underworld to light. It aerates, makes space for new growth. It pokes us into motion. It prods others into taking action. It stirs twenty-six magical symbols into words, sentences, paragraphs, and stories that create change.
Author Terry Tempest Williams is a woman with a gift to share. For three decades I have admired the gift of her artistry, activism, and advocacy for sacred rage. She writes from the heart; her style is passionate, wild, deep, and informed. The gift of her words combines her personal commitment and passion with a practical agenda for political change. By its very nature her work activates us to sense more, be more, tolerate less, and do more. It activates us at a heart level, from our core. Her writing incites us to scorn disengagement, to pity those who do not advocate for our earth and for our freedom. The content of her writing is inspirited by her love of the values she holds inviolable: the wild, her family history, democracy, and free speech. Her writing is inspired by her deep love for the landscape, artworks, and issues that test her sacred values.
The year was 1995. At stake were 5.7 million acres of Utah wilderness. The venue was Congressional Subcommittee hearings in Cedar City, Utah. The plea to protect this wilderness acreage was made by author and citizen activist Terry Tempest Williams.
Utah Congressman Jim Hansen was not referring to the quality of the microphone when he looked down from the riser and said, “I’m sorry, Ms. Williams. But there is something about your voice I cannot hear.”
Although she felt diminished by Congressman Hansen’s curt dismissal, Williams persisted. Just as you would expect from a woman who has many times proven the sway of the written word.
When Senators Hatch and Hansen betrayed the 70 percent majority of citizen opinion by proposing the protection of only 1.8 million acres, Williams decided that a chorus of voices might fill the vacuum left by her unheard words.
Good work is always a stay against despair, as Terry has stated.
Grounded by events in her personal family history and empowered by her love for all things wild, with the help of Stephen Trimble she rallied twenty writers to join them in a gesture of faith, a plea to Congress to pass legislation that would protect the sacred and savage landscape of Southern Utah.
Three weeks following the urgent plea, twenty writers, including Barry Lopez, Mark Strand, Rick Bass, and Ann Zwinger, contributed essays, poems, and stories. These offerings were made gratis. They were gifts inspired by the writers’ love for the Utah landscape. The writings were then published as Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness.
The story could have stopped with the publication of a respected chapbook, but the impassioned writings had a much grander destiny.
The Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance helped place a copy of Testimony in the hands of every member of Congress. In September the chapbook was acknowledged as the equivalent of a literary bill. A copy was given to Hillary Clinton who presented the book to the president. A copy was received by Al Gore and other key members of the administration. The chapbook was then read in its entirety during the ensuing filibuster.
Because twenty esteemed writers were willing to share their heartfelt words, Testimony is now part of the Congressional Record. Six months later, when President Clinton designated the Grand Staircase National Monument, he held up a copy of Testimony and said, “This little book made a difference.”
Yes, Testimony helped preserve the red rock wilderness of Southern Utah. But it was the gesture that mattered. Williams refers to the concept of making the “essential gesture,” as doing whatever is required of us in a particular moment, in a particular circumstance, so regardless of who we are or what we write or speak, we are fully present and embodied in the moment.
Although it’s likely we will never know the impact of our activism, the gift we have to spare is the essential gesture. This is the offering we make again and again, word after word, in hopes our gift will be shared. This is taking action from the source of our love of, in service of our love for.
To paraphrase Williams: The most effective activists are in love with the world. There is nothing as powerful as an active heart, the beating heart of change.
Sunday Larson is a member of the ‘I Am Woman’ generation. She believes every woman has a story to tell and every woman’s voice should be heard. Her recent projects include The Sunday Soup Kitchen, a community of Stirring Women for Stirring Times, and an anthology, The Women of Once Upon a Time-Their Secret Recipes and Hidden Charms. She lives with her husband and four rescue cats in Sedona, AZ where she stirs the cauldron of HerStory one woman’s story at a time. www.SundayLarson.com