AS A POET WHO IS ALSO a pastor, or as a pastor who is also a poet, my vocations can seem complementary. I am involved with someone else’s words, in one way or another, all week.
But, just as often, I feel at the mercy of competing powers, a tension lively, if lonely, in its alternating pressures and torques. At those times, it helps to remember the productive conundrum of Emily Dickinson, especially her words from a late letter: “I work to drive the awe away, yet awe impels the work.”
Empathy isn’t just remembering to say That must really be hard, it’s figuring out how to bring difficulty into the light so it can be seen at all. Empathy isn’t just listening, it’s asking the questions whose answers need to be listened to. Empathy requires inquiry as much as imagination. Empathy requires knowing you know nothing. Empathy means acknowledging a horizon of context that extends perpetually beyond what you can see…
When people ask me what I do for work, I answer “I’m a librarian.” For most, that’s enough. A few will make a half-hearted joke about Dewey Decimal Classification. The rest move on to talking about the weather or excusing themselves for another drink.
What I want to tell them is that it took me 30 years to understand how and why I’m wired for puzzles, that I’m not myself if I don’t spend a significant amount of time alone and thinking, that everything library-related I do is—in one way or another—my way of saying, “Look at this: I want you to have this. This means something.”