How do I know I am something, in this regard? Because I discovered the power of the written word, a la Edward Bulwer-Lytton’s famous 1839 metonymic adage, The pen is mightier than the sword, in a previous incarnation, another lifetime, while still a high school student. I found it not only in what I read but in what I began to write.
The pen, the electric typewriter since my junior high days and, shortly thereafter, the keyboard in the dawning age of the microcomputer, has the power to inspire, delight, provoke, infuriate, exasperate, instill fear, and set the wheels of change in motion.
Writing has the power to shine light on the dark and dank corners of unethical behavior, hypocrisy, lies, and injustice, and to criticize whatever and whomever is deserving of criticism, regardless of the cost.
This unattributed saying often comes to mind: May the bridges I burn light the way. There are bridges worth drenching in gasoline and tossing a lit match on. You usually know them when you see them, the ones worth setting fire to. Don’t be afraid of the consequences. We have two lives, and the second begins when we realize we only have one, a quote attributed to Confucius.
When you are something, not everyone loves you, especially those whose actions and ideologies are on the receiving end of your criticism. That is a small price to pay for speaking out on behalf of victims of exploitation and genocide, for example, both the living and the dead. I’m reminded of this profound quote from Elie Wiesel, a Holocaust survivor: We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. For this reason, there is no pretense of “objectivity” or a sense of balance in much of my writing. Unlike most, I’m honest about whose ax I’m grinding.
A related quote that inspires me in my work is from Martin Luther King, Jr., who paid the ultimate price for speaking truth to power at the early middle age of 39: A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true. (This is an excerpt from Rev. King’s sermon on courage, delivered on 8 March 1965 in Selma, Alabama. It often appears as a paraphrase: Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.)
Don’t let your life end prematurely because of fear. You still have to look at yourself in the mirror. I sincerely hope you like what you see.
You will still have to look back on occasion as the inventory that is your life accumulates, assuming you are accorded that privilege. I hope you are able to look back with contentment, happiness, and inner peace.
I would much rather be something than nothing. Wouldn’t you? Aren’t you?
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