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|Fostering the Moral Imagination - Page 4|
We're a close family. Last time I was at my Aunt Henrietta's trailer, Paul asked me if I'd read his life story that he'd written down through the years in a spiral notebook. I read it that same evening in my hotel room. It contained many sad chapters. Because of his vulnerable and often homeless life, Paul had witnessed many traumatic events. Once he'd saved a man's life by swimming into a lake for him. He'd come across domestic violence, injured animals, and late-night car wrecks, and he'd tried to be helpful. Once in a rural area of Arkansas, he was arrested while psychotic. His parents were looking for him, but these local police didn't read the all-points bulletin. His jailers were cruel. Paul was teased and kept in chains. No one would give him water to drink or let him make a phone call. When he grew frustrated and swore at them, they poured kerosene on him and then burned him. He still has the scars on his arms and back. Another time he was on a street hallucinating and bikers rescued him. They took him home before he could be picked up and taken to jail.
When I returned Paul's notebook, I asked him what he wanted from me--feedback or help publishing? He said, "All I'd like you to do is to write at the end of the book, 'I understand.'" Writers and therapists strive to develop the moral imagination that allows them to say those words.
Both therapy and writing are whole-person work. The most effective of us work from a centered and focused place. The individual, authentic voice is what matters. In fact, dishonesty is always apparent. Dead words smell bad, like old fish.
Part of learning our craft is finding our voice. This isn't a matter of style, but involves figuring out the best way to use everything we are and everything we know in the service of our work. Anne Frank is a good example of a writer with an authentic voice. She was an adolescent girl in a terrible time and place who used her whole self to tell her story. Voice is "what you alone can say." Figuring this out is a worthy life mission. Voice goes much deeper than charisma or word choice: it's about character structure and point of view on the universe.