It happened a few years ago. I’d started rethinking a lot of things about my life — what I wanted to accomplish with it, how God played into all of it — and decided to write my thoughts as I went along.
Eventually I got the idea that I could package my writing into a book that might help others who are going through the same things. Writers fantasize about some day having a best-seller; maybe this would be mine. I wrote and wrote and wrote and stepped back one day and read all of it and realized something.
I’m not so good at this type of writing. Expressing thoughts and feelings is a lot harder than reporting on events. Words are so inadequate. It’s so easy to cross the line between being helpful and being insufferable. At times, I sounded like a pompous ass.
So, what to do?
I went back and rewrote. And rewrote again. I decided to try to make it breezier and more conversational — that’ll do the trick. I read it again and realized that I now sounded like a breezy, pompous ass.
It’s called writer’s block, and it felt like a dead end. Maybe I should wait a few years and try again then. Hit define and delete, give up the struggle and move on. That seemed like the best thing to do. Stop trying to create for now.
I went jogging to mull it over.
It was a beautiful autumn evening with a wonderful, warm breeze out of the south. I’d just finished my jog and was walking around the block to cool down, enjoying the wind on my sweaty face, when a sound got my attention.
I looked up and saw a small can being blown down the middle of the sidewalk, bouncing end-to-end. It was moving fast and heading right for me. It was a hundred feet away but seemed to be homing in on me. Nobody else was around, so I had no idea where it came from.
I expected the can to get blown sideways and come to a halt, but it didn’t deviate from its course. It was almost like an unseen hand had bowled the can toward me. I stopped and watched, feeling like I was the headpin. When the can got right up to me, it veered into the lawn and stopped.
I got goose bumps.
I picked it up. The empty Pepsi can had been designed as part of a marketing campaign by the soft drink company. I couldn’t make out much of the drawings — it was dark on the street — but as I turned the can, one word at the bottom jumped out at me.
Create. It said to create.
Now, I don’t know how these things work. Did a divine fling send it my way? Was it just coincidence? You could argue either side. Who knows? Mysterious ways. But it was something I needed at that moment.
Gregg Levoy writes about such occurrences in his book “Callings.” He uses famed psychiatrist Carl Jung’s term for these things: Synchronicities. Times when something happens that taps into an inner struggle and provides a moment of clarity, direction and inspiration. Mysterious moments infused with meaning.
Divine nudges, perhaps.
Getting back to the story: I picked up the can and took it home. It rests on a shelf as a reminder. Shortly after it rolled my way, I went back to rewriting and rewriting. I finally found the courage to send a blog to Sojourners. They liked it and used it. I sent a few more.
Last summer, our pastor was gone for a month. He asked me to write the church’s weekly newsletter and encouraged me to do whatever I wanted with it. (Now, there’s a leap of faith!) I used some of my blog material. People liked it. When our pastor returned, I started my own blog. I like to think I’m getting better at it. This week marks the one-year anniversary, my 81st post.
Writing is not easy or comfortable — never is. Your insecurities are always there, openly exposed in the blank spaces between the lines. You worry that you’re being pompous. You wonder how people will react, whether it’ll change how they think of you. Some take strong exception; others are thankful. You forge ahead.
All in all, it’s very good.
So, what are the lessons learned from the wind-blown Pepsi can?
Maybe it’s a reminder that we have to leave the safe harbor in order to visit new places and chart a new course for ourselves and others. That whenever we try something new, we’re going to suck at first but we’ll get a little better as we keep trying. That each of us has something important to give to others. That even though what we give is always imperfect, it can work out perfectly well. That a little courage takes us a long way. And that we’ll get mysterious but helpful direction along the way, if we pay attention.
Listen for the clink-clink-clink of something rolling your way.
(Note: Nothing in this post should be construed as a suggestion that the divine prefers Pepsi over Coke, although I know some who would argue for that interpretation. Also, if you think that the divine should make healthier choices for sending messages, you are free to take that up with her/him directly.)