None of us makes it through life without some kind of pain and loss and heartache. We are all of us, broken or wounded in some way. Some of these wounds arise from tragic circumstances: the loss of a loved when far before their time, abuse, neglect, betrayal.
But sometimes brokenness happens simply in the way any much used item becomes broken: a handle falls off after too many years of lifting too heavy a load, we crack due to extreme variations in temperature or weather, our insulation no longer insulate, or maybe we’ve just rusted through. Some of our wounds will be self inflicted as we humans have an astounding ability to get in our own way.
The thing is, these wounds and losses are necessary—as much a part of life as breathing, for without them it’s hard to make the case that we’ve been truly living.
It is in the acquiring of those wounds that we become truly human. As painful as they are—they can also bring wisdom and strength, compassion and humility. If we let them.
They can also bring bitterness and calcification, close us down and shut us up tight.
That is what makes stories so essential to the human experience—they take the creators’ wounds and turn them into something more—a gift that we dare to give the world.
I first came across this concept of wounds as gift in a book by Robert Rohr while researching theology for assassin nuns. And while he writes about spiritual matters, it occurred to me that the concept was equally true and relevant for writers.
While wounds bring suffering, they also allow us to grow and change and transform ourselves into something more. That is one of story’s most important roles—showing us how to do just that with the circumstances that life has thrown us.
This is why books and paintings and drawings and music are so important to us, not only individually, but as a society: it illuminates the pain and joy of life and renders it fascinating and compelling, but also healing.
As writers, I believe this is at the very core of what we do—we take the raw stuff of our pain and doubts and fears transforms them into something that is, in turn, transformative to others.
I cannot emphasize enough how this DOES NOT MEAN all our stories need to be dark or tragic ones. Sometimes the absolute best way to point out such things is with lightness or humor’s sharp bite. Even what can appear to be the most escapist form of art, serves a purpose in that it allows us to attain some psychic space from our own pain for a while. It gives us the breathing room to acquire enough distance to tackle our problems from a stronger perspective. Escape can be an important, natural step in the healing process.
I suspect that writers and other artists are those who are the most fascinated by the world’s quirks and foibles and broken places. Not in a feeding off others pain way, but because it resonates so deeply with the jagged edges of our own broken spots and affirms that this is what it means to be human.
It is our wounds that make us human, else we would all be mannequins, robots, or simply annoying (or boring) as hell.
It is also why writing can be so scary, because that real and true connection is at the heart of our relationship with our readers. So an important (and hopefully comforting) thing to remember is this: Your wounds and scars will often not be obvious to your readers. Life’s painful experiences come in an infinite variety of shapes, sizes, and colors. In writing about them, they don’t need to be the exact same experiences you went through—but rather they simply have to spring from the same well.
It can be hard to learn to accept—let alone appreciate—our own wounds and understand how they can be a gift, both to ourselves and others. This is, in fact, something I struggle with daily, even as I recognize and appreciate the wounds of others, I work pretty damn hard to hide my own.
When you think of your friends and acquaintances—who are the most comforting to be around? Those that live in a closed up state of denial—never admitting to, let alone processing, life’s pain? Or those who have been through some hardship of their own and can therefore offer you wisdom, compassion, and empathy, or simply an understanding silence without the pressure to be perfect.
When you think of your favorite, most beloved books, what truth did they share? In what way did they comfort you or open your eyes to some new facet of the world around you?
This is why it is so important that we tell the stories that arise from the core of who we are.
That we write from our own authentic heartaches and losses. That we take the dross that life has handed us and spin it into something more.
That is what makes some reading experiences resonate so strongly with us—we feel as if we have been exposed to something True and Real.
As the New Year stretches out in front of us, unsullied and full of promise, I wish for all of us the courage to write something real and true. Let that be our gift to ourselves—that we learn to accept that our wounds have value, and that we acquire the courage to share them with others.
What piece of fiction struck you as the truest book you have ever read? That resonated so fully with you that you still carry it with you in your soul?