Lately, I will look up—from the book covers I’m buried in, or computer screen that I’m plastered to—and experience a mild panic. What have I done with my life, I’ll wonder, and has the extraordinary gamble of devoting myself to literature (at the expense of all else) been worth it; has it paid off & at what cost?
On the eve of turning 46 years old (which, in turn, is four years short of 50!) I’m asking myself these questions with renewed urgency. Yet, once the anxious flutter subsides, I’m left with the same answer.
I had no choice, really, there could have been no other way. A life of letters—first as voracious reader, then as delirious writer—has been vital and meant so many things for me, it’s difficult to begin to untangle them.
On one level, reading and writing is play, serious play, and escapism, from suffering that I was not otherwise equipped to deal with. Which is to say, the literary life is a deeply enjoyable form of self-medication, pursuit of altered consciousness, self-parenting, even.
Books—by others and, eventually, my own—were there for me in ways that people were not/could not have been. They revealed me to myself, over time, mentored me, sustained and inspired me—giving me a way to be in this world, but not of it…
Strange to say, perhaps, but it was reading and writing that also taught me how to meditate in a fashion—slipping through the bars of self and time— as well as how to bow, give thanks, pray. Whether or not I realized it, from the start, books pointed me in the direction of the long, hard road to transformation, and helped me take the first steps.
Admittedly, at times, life as a writer has seemed like a lonely vocation. Yet, in fact, the opposite is closer to the truth. Literature, my own and others, has in fact, repeatedly, rescued me from loneliness and connected me to the world. Miraculously, it has gifted me friends across space and time, raising the great dead from previous generations, as well as granting me far flung readers of my own work that I’ve connected with, virtually.
In the poignant words of Argentine writer, Jorge Luis Borges:
Despite a writer’s life being solitary, if they are lucky, they might come to discover they are at the center of a vast circle of invisible friends.
Thank you, friends (visible and invisible), for being part of my literary life, and co-partners in this remarkable adventure (so far). I hope I’ve not been too self-indulgent and that, at times, my words have mysteriously spoken your silences, the way writers have spoken mine.
If I might be permitted another parting quote, here’s a dear line, from a discarded version of Rilke’s ‘Notebooks of Malte Laurids Brigge’ that sums up better than I can how I feel about the work that still lies ahead, on the page and off:
..he realized that what was within him was scarcely begun; that, if he were to die now, he would not be capable of living in the afterlife; that they would be ashamed, over there, of his rudimentary soul, and would hide it away in eternity like a premature baby.
Yahia Lababidi, Egyptian-American, is the author of seven books of poetry and prose, most recently the collection of aphorisms, Signposts to Elsewhere.