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Sunday, December 5, 2010

Why We Write

 
This week: Bruce Bethke

I shaved my wife's head yesterday.

No, this is not some strange fetish. This is life with cancer. My wife has always had either long, or very long, straight, brown, hair. (Well, except for that period in the 1970s when she had a sort of reddish-brown poodle perm, but that's best left forgotten). In anticipation of the predicted "some hair loss" during chemotherapy she'd had it cut back to a short bob a few weeks ago, but this week, it began to come out in clumps. She couldn't run a comb through it or put on and take off a hat without pulling out a handful of hair.

So yesterday, I got out the hair clippers, and gave her the one haircut I know how to do: a half-inch crew cut. And then, in solidarity, I let her do the same for me.

After which I held her, for a long time, while she silently cried.

This is why we write. Because we are not telepathic, nor more than barely clumsily empathic. Each of us lives our life entirely alone, inside our own head and heart, and yet we need to share. Thus we talk, and write, and blog, and twitter: all in an effort to break through this loneliness and truly share our inner selves with other people. We write to say, "This is who I am. This is what I think. This is how I feel. This is what I want to share with you."

And sometimes, once in a rare while, the words come together just right, at the right time, and we make that connection. Perhaps only for a moment; perhaps only across the gulf between two hearts. Or perhaps, when everything works really right, we make the connection one-to-many, across thousands of miles, and across oceans of time.

This morning, over breakfast, Karen and I were talking about Christmas shopping. It's going to be a lean one, this year. While we have better medical insurance than most people do, there are still a lot of uncovered out-of-pocket expenses, and our budget is getting thin. So we talked about Christmas, and tried to narrow it down to just one really significant gift for each other. But all the while, we kept looking at each other's hair, and somehow the conversation insisted on drifting around to "The Gift of the Magi," by O. Henry. And for a few minutes, our hearts were lightened, and we laughed.

This is why we write. Because when it really works, it's wonderful.
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