By Laura Moore
"Does it have to end happy?" some lady asked at a memoir workshop I attended three weeks ago at the Worthington Public Library. Writer and professor Richard Gilbert, the man who was running the workshop, paused for a moment and considered the woman's question.
"Well, it should have some silver lining," he told her quite thoughtfully, "otherwise it would be too much for people to read."
The woman proceeded to explain, albeit vaguely, that she had this terribly juicy story that she wanted to tell--that she needed to tell--but if she did and didn't change all of the names (but changing the names would ruin the whole thing, she said), those people would get mad at her for telling the world about these terrible things they did, and...
"If you can't find the silver lining," Gilbert said to her once she stopped to take a breath, "then maybe you don't have enough distance to write it just yet."
The woman went on to explain more about her vaguely meaty story and as she went on, I paused to think about his comment, and I continued to think about that comment for weeks and weeks and weeks.
If you can't find the silver lining then maybe you don't have enough distance to write it just yet.
It seemed so simple, and yet I hadn't thought of it before. I hadn't realized that every time I sit to write, I am in pursuit of a silver lining. I am in pursuit of some greater meaning, some lesson, some tiny inkling of hope. When I write and write and write and can't seem to find it, the story never feels complete. When I force it, my words taste sour in my mouth. When I refuse to admit it, guilt and anger and remorse and frustration taunt me and nag me and nibble holes through my gut.
Was this really a universal thing?
I scanned through the easy recall list of book titles peeking out from the shelves in my mind and realized--quite quickly--that in my very unscientific examination of every book and story I could recall, each of them had a silver lining. And most of them had many silver linings tending to show up each time the story sunk with the weight of sadness.
Every. Single. Book.
Every single book had triumph poised to swallow defeat, wisdom ready to suffocate pain, love eager to flood an empty heart.
Every single book had hope stitched into the parchment, ready to creek out its legs and stand up tall.
For the next month, as I read blog posts, magazine articles, watched UNBROKEN, listened to an audiobook of OKAY FOR NOW in my car, and read John Green's AN ABUNDANCE OF KATHERINES, I took note of the way each storyteller deliberately bent my emotions. I took note of how they gave me enough to empathize with the travesties, and right when the pain became to much--right when I was about to throw in the towel and say: no--they turned everything. They masterfully twisted words into shimmering clouds, and gave me a bright spot, showed me sunshine peeking out from a cluster of smoke. They gave me a reason to believe it all mattered, that if I just hung on, the world would somehow be better in the end.
And so I kept going. We all do, because hope is really at the heart of everything. It's the thing that makes us push harder. The thing that pries open our eyes when they feel too heavy to grow wide. The thing that fills our lungs, enlivens our spirit and wets our palms with the itch to go on.
And so, as this new year gets underway, I have decided to approach my days like I approach my endeavor to write stories: I have decided to search for a silver lining in everything.
I've decided to choose to be positive, to choose to face emotions and challenges I had previously decided (albeit subconsciously) to bury beneath the surface until the pile got too high to move.
I've decided to stare everything in the eye: turning it upside down and inside out, studying it for what it really is, looking through it to see what exists on the other side....and when I can't get there, I've decided to look up at the sun, or at the clouds, or toward my family, and trust with the fervor of some impassioned writer, that an understanding is on the horizon, that a truth is just beyond the bend, that a happy ending is smiling at me from the other side of the road.
I just have to keep going, keep searching, keep believing, keep hoping for a sliver of sun to peek through the hazy, gray shadows of snow.