(Updated from June 4, 2020, Wild +Human Nature Newsletter)
Many years ago I attended a concert Holly Near gave with friends in southern Oregon. It was a feast of musical voices and instruments, new ideas and traditional songs. Partway through the evening, she asked us to sing along a capella with “Singing for Our Lives.” She joined arms with the women on either side of her.
We are a gentle, angry people, they sang. We are a justice-seeking people.
We sang with them. We were all those things, right? We are young and old together. We are a land of many colors. When she continued We are a gay and lesbian people, voices dropped off.
We weren’t all those things, were we? Were we supposed to join in? We were confused.
Some of us stayed silent until Holly marched to the microphone and reminded us to raise our voices in solidarity with the more vulnerable ones among us.
I felt ashamed for being one of the silent ones, one of the confused ones. I got it, and I wanted another chance. “Let’s try that again,” she said, and we did, full and loud and clear and strong.
In recent days of protest, many of us have affirmed solidarity with the black community. No matter who we are, this is the moment to be all things together, raising voices together. It’s always been the moment, long past, and we haven’t seized it fully and loudly and clearly and strongly enough.
Writers have a particular opportunity––even obligation––at this time to show up. We spend days, weeks, months, years of our lives choosing the right words. We know language shapes our world, just as our world shapes language.
We can help choose the language of this time. We can speak just the right words now. Not words that divide and inflame and suppress, but words that unite and nurture and support.
This is the moment we’re made for––that we’ve been practicing for. We can write letters. Write our truths. Write our support. Write our objections to incendiary words from those whose tone-deaf language or ill intentions would lead us to ruin. We can use the nuance we understand and the expertise we have to create character. We can write the change we want to see now in our world.
We are a land of many colors. Our words, our voices, our songs––and the actions they shape––can stop the dividers from pulling us apart.
The difference between lightning and a lightning bug, Mark Twain said, “is a really large matter.”
Black lives matter. They matter. The right words matter. Never let anyone say they do not.
Or as Holly might say, “Let’s try that again.”
Find my recent book of essays, 2020 Nautilus Book Award Winner and 2019 Oregon Book Award Finalist The Oasis This Time: Living and Dying with Water in the West (Torrey House Press, 2019), at your local bookseller, Indie Bound, Barnes & Noble, and Amazon.