06 Nov Lonely Encounters

I just read this passage this morning, and I’m reeling from its implications. I feel like I’ll be sitting with it for a while, but wanted to share a few thoughts anyway:

“Does not all creativity ask for a certain encounter with our loneliness, and does not the fear of this encounter severely limit our possible self-expression?”
– Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out

As I consider my life as a songwriter I realize immediately how I fear those lonely encounters with myself, how I want to manage my expression. Last time I wrote about a desire for impression over expression, and Nouwen uncovers a new facet of the struggle: if I’m afraid to delve into the lonely places, I’ll never tap into the potential for truly important expression that exists in them – especially if what I want most is to impress an audience.

A willingness to explore our loneliness, our human singularity, should be a vital part of creating. Nouwen writes earlier in the book that “few ‘happy endings’ make us happy, but often someone’s careful and honest articulation of the ambiguities, uncertainties, and painful conditions of life gives us new hope.” That’s so true! What could be more compelling to a listener than a song that articulates the ambiguities, uncertainties, and pains of life? Whether it sounds melancholy or happy, there’s something in that kind of expression that softens the ache, gives us hope.

A recent favorite song of mine is Elephant by Jason Isbell, from Southeastern. It’s an incredibly sad story about a woman dying of cancer, and a prime example (to me) of how “careful and honest articulation” can make all the difference. I leave the experience of that song feeling somewhat sad, but mostly feeling human – feeling like I’ve just heard a writer who knows how to encounter his loneliness and not shy away from the expressions it has to offer.

I’m really interested in what you think about this. Comments?

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