Many years ago I read a beautiful Chinese proverb: “Keep a green tree in your heart and perhaps the singing bird will come.” I have spent my life trying to keep the green tree alive in my heart. Now I am past my three score years and ten allotted by the Bible, and I think, in the distance, I can hear its first faint chirping.
My life has been devoted to words. I have been writing since I was a child and first learned their magic. I remember I kept a book called “My Beauty Book” into which I painstakingly copied scraps of literature, quotations and especially poems whether written in English or translated. I would sit in the massive Public Library in Melbourne, Australia, my birthplace, with piles of books in front of me, and it was like wandering through an enchanted garden. It seemed to me that there was much beauty in the world, but to capture it you needed to be a poet, a musician or an artist. I used to think: if only I were a musician, I would compose great symphonies, rhapsodies with crashing chords that would let my listeners soar to heights of ecstasy. Alas, I had no musical talent.
Then I would think: if only I were an artist. My canvas would show swathes of brilliant color … scarlet, emerald, indigo. I would portray the wonders of creation, and people would be inspired to open their eyes and see for themselves all the beauty that exists in the world and ugliness could be banished forever. Sadly, I had no artistic talent.
Writing, however, was something else. I could string words together like a necklace of diamonds and crystals, so they shimmered like stars in the night sky. I would repeat a quotation of just two lines that became my mantra:
“Writing is dreaming, head in the skies;
Reading is sharing another man’s eyes.”
I could dream and I could write. I could write about all that was lovely in the world in a way that readers could share my eyes. I would let them see what I saw; touch what I touched; hear the music that I heard; smell the perfumes I smelt and taste what I tasted, even if it was the salt of tears.
I have nurtured and cherished this gift. Writing has been a therapy and a consolation, allowing me to put my life into perspective. As we grow older, we sustain many losses along the way. We lose people we loved, that is inevitable, but we sometimes lose our dreams as well. We can even lose love and that is the greatest loss of all. When that happens, words can be a comfort if you focus on: “Don’t cry because it’s over. Smile because it happened.”
Pain accompanies us as we go through life, but a writer can verbalise it in such a way to help it dissipate; and we can use words to help others deal with their sadness. We learn so much from great writers through the ages… those poets who reveal a touch of paradise; the story-tellers who can point a moral that perhaps will light the way for those of us stumbling in the darkness.
I love words. They have never betrayed me. They have been my constant companion through life’s journey and sustained me through all the rough patches. Every year that I now live is a gift from God. How fortunate I have been even to be paid for what I loved doing. My purpose has been to try to enrich my life and that of others with the power of words.
In that way I have kept the green tree in my heart. I have watched it don new green lace every Spring, have seen the leaves turn to russet and gold in the Autumn. It has been a shelter to build nests. And now, I think, the bird will soon begin to sing!