“Focus!” I’d bark to my kids in an effort to get them to stop pulling the hairs off their forearms or flicking the light switch on and off and listen to me while I insist that leaving your sack lunch buried on the closet floor for three weeks is breeding maggots or why leaving the lawn looking like a squirrel mowed it wasn’t going to pass on my watch. For them, the word became a hateful reminder of wanting to be anywhere other than listening to mom demand you grow up and be responsible. I get it. Sorry, kids. I kinda ruined the word for myself, too.
So when I saw this poster with the word “Focus” highlighted in the middle, I was not eager to read the text around it. This is no surprise since there are about a billion posters with sayings or prayers that may have started out well – like the “Grant me the serenity to … blah, blah, blah prayer that has been so overworked it has lost all meaning due to marketing and your grandmother who cross stitched and framed it for your birthday. It might have even encouraged a person like me to have a tiny aversion to prayer altogether. But then maybe, I’m a little more waspish than the average nice, tolerant person from Minnesota.
Fortunately, the poster caught my eye long enough to pause. The words seem to have been inspired by a number of sources: Neil Gaiman’s “Make Good Art” graduation speech and Leonard Cohen’s song “there’s a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” In any case, a couple of women created this response to the turmoil of a year that left many people disheartened. It sounded a call to create no matter what the world or politics sends to our lives.
This is your assignment.
Feel all the things. Feel the hard things. The inexplicable things, the things that make you disavow humanity’s capacity for redemption. Feel all the maddening paradoxes. Feel overwhelmed, crazy. Feel uncertain. Feel angry. Feel afraid. Feel powerless. Feel frozen. And then
Pick up your pen. Pick up your paintbrush. Pick up your damn chin. Put your two calloused hands on the turntables, in the clay, on the strings. Get behind the camera. Look for that pinprick of light. Look for the truth (yes, it is a thing—it still exists.)
Focus on that light. Enlarge it. Reveal the fierce urgency of now. Reveal how shattered we are, how capable of being repaired. But don’t lament the break. Nothing new would be built if things were never broken. A wise man once said: there’s a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in. Get after that light.
This is your assignment.
I liked these ideas enough to send them to my brain with instructions to focus, for pity sake. Be faithful to that wee little gift you’ve been given. So I’m getting to it, stumbling forward. Sorting words, putting them to paper, praying, hoping, and going after the Light.