Just About Right

I was watching the film adaption of The Crucible last night, and just as when I read the play in high school 30 years ago, I found myself enraged at those Salem witch hunters blinded by fear and paranoia. If I had been there I’d have straightened them all out with an eloquent plea for reason and compassion. So I thought from the safety of my twenty-first century living room. But teaching has taught me what mere writing sometimes cannot. No matter how well I speak or write, no matter how honest and precise I am with my words, all I can ever do is point where I hope my readers and listeners will go. There are times I feel that if I get it just right I can lift my audience like children and drop them just where I think they need to be.

Yet I don’t actually know where anyone else needs to be. I have known some fine places, however, and if I paint them well then others may seek them out. I must be honest, of course. If I paint them too idyllically my readers will be disappointed when they arrive, as even the greenest valley is subject to storms; and if I am too austere, if I withhold only to avoid the shame of unshared enthusiasm, I will have only myself to blame when I discover no one has joined me.

This is why I do my best to get it just right: so my readers will be given the clearest option of where to look for what they love. It occurs to me that this was in many ways the problem with The Crucible’s witch hunters. You cannot look simultaneously for God and the Devil. You can only find one or the other.  You look for what you fear to remove it from the world, and yet the more you seek it, the more you find it, until you seem surrounded by nothing but evil.

Still, I believe fear is not actually the opposite of love. In life there is only love and the avoidance of love. In this way, we live simply in greater and lesser degrees of love. I am no saint, but I will paint the clearest picture of love I know, a target for the near and farsighted alike, never getting it just right, but glad for the chance to keep trying.

Remember to catch Bill every Tuesday at 2:00 PM PST/5:00 EST on his live Blogtalk Radio program Author2Author!

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