A few weeks ago, my co-worker (and friend) gave me an essay to read. It is a brave thing to do—to share with someone else a piece of literature that moves you. We have all been there. We have all shared something that changed us or helped us to see the world in a new way, only to be disappointed when the person we shared it with just doesn’t get it. It can be alienating. When something you see as extraordinary becomes ordinary in someone else’s view, it can actually be painful.
So when I was given the essay, I knew. I knew that it was something extraordinary. I knew it was something extraordinary because he was sharing it with me. I knew it had to be. So I took great care in reading it. And I was right. It was extraordinary.
My point here is not to discuss the subject of the essay, although the subject cannot be discounted. The subject of the essay is heart-breaking—the destruction of nature. But rather than discuss the subject, I would rather discuss the effect the essay itself had on me and why. You see, the subject would not have hit me so hard, if the writer didn’t construct the essay in the way he did. And the way he constructed the essay was beautiful—beauty in the midst of destruction.
Words. These are the only tools a writer has, and he has to use those tools to create an emotional response in the reader. It is a difficult thing to do. It takes an immense amount of work. But the right words in the right order, turns the ordinary into extraordinary.
Here is my favorite section from the essay:
“We paused beneath red and white oaks and poplars towering sixty feet to their first limbs. Their branches, joining overhead, gave the impression of a green-and-gold cathedral ceiling supported by massive wooden columns.”
Yes, he is talking about trees, but to him, and now to the reader, ordinary trees become much more. They now become a cathedral, or even more profoundly, a spiritual experience—all due to the right words in the right order. And as a writer, you are never quite sure if it works until you get a reader’s response.
I was never really one to believe the phrase “art for art’s sake.” Art in any form cries out for a response. Art cannot exist for its own sake. All art is a form of communication, and at its best, it takes the reader (in the case of literature) out of his ordinary existence and places him into the extraordinary.
When my friend shared this essay with me that day, he gave me a gift. The essay created a response in me: I was moved to tears. Why? Because the spiritual experience the author felt through his communion with nature was communicated to me, and it changed me. And the only tools the writer had were words.
Words have power.