In Answer to Your Questions about Inspiration

So, it’s been a while since I posted. I’d make excuses, but I don’t have any. This morning, I read an email from a high school student working on a project about inspiration and asking if I would be willing to answer some questions to help them out. I asked my artist friends on Facebook to offer a comment about the one thing they would want someone to know about inspiration, went to work, and mulled over my answers most of the day. I think I might have this all wrong, but the answers seemed worth sharing, and it had been, you know, a really long time since I posted anything over here. So double thank you to the high school student–once for making think this through and then again for giving me a blog post. Here goes:

What is inspiration to you? And where does your inspiration come from?


Inspiration is not a thing. It is a moment. I can’t predict what is going to inspire me, but I leave myself open to it at all times. Sometimes, it’s a particular shade of a particular color in a sunrise or sunset or a woman’s dress or a man’s eyes. Sometimes, it is deep internal reflection about something. Sometimes, it’s a chord in a song or a series of words in something I’m reading or a poignant news story or the tears of a friend. Sometimes it comes from my students: their stories, their triumphs, their epiphanies, their relationships with one another and with me. Often, it is loss. That can be a personal loss–a loved one, a change in major plans, a rejection of some kind–or something I perceive as a societal loss–the failure of a bill that would help people in poverty or people with disabilities, for example, two subjects that I care about deeply. For me, the only way to combat grief and loss is to make it worth something, to bring something out of it that is worth sharing.

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The Fluidity of Faith

I generally avoid talking about religion/spirituality/faith/etc. I avoid it with approximately the same vehemence as I avoid meals with a high probability of giving me food poisoning and for some of the same reasons. Not only can it leave me with a very bad taste in my mouth and a nauseous lump in my throat, but there’s really just no way for it to end well. Mostly, though, I avoid it because spirituality is a very personal subject. Not personal in an “I’m menstruating today” taboo kind of way, but personal in the sense that my relationship with God is my own and I don’t feel that there is a right way to believe (although I do believe that there are wrong ways – like calling oneself a Christian and subsequently saying that God doesn’t love those people).

Yet, there is nothing like great tragedy to get you thinking about faith and what you really believe. As we close on the one-year mark of Zack’s death, I’m starting to hear questions about whether or not this experience has shaken my faith. Since I’ve asked myself this question many times over the last few months, I suppose it’s a fair question.

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Miracles and Mixed Feelings

I used to tell the story of Zack’s birth often. It was a long answer to the question, “How did your son get cerebral palsy?” – a question we heard in a hundred variations, most of them spoken in soft tones of sympathy. Young children were the most likely to ask and they would ask in the most straightforward ways while their parents gnawed on fingernails in embarrassment. “What’s wrong with him?” they would ask.

“Well,” I would say, “when Zachary was born, he didn’t get enough air to his brain. That made it so that his muscles don’t work quite like ours do. He uses a wheelchair the way we use legs.”

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I Know I’m Selfish, But It Is What It Isn’t

My last post seems to have ruffled a few feathers. That’s fair. It’s also fair that I temper my hurt feelings from the actions of some with an honest assessment of myself these last eleven months. I am well aware of my shortcomings, of which there are many.

I have been selfish. I have forgotten birthdays. I didn’t send Christmas cards this year. I have canceled lunch dates. I promised a friend a letter that I never sent. I owe another friend money and I can’t remember how much. I have cut my volunteer hours by almost 90%, declined to help with things I would have jumped at a year ago, and taken weeks or months to answer email with anything more than “I’m very busy right now.”

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There’s Nothing You Can Say to Make It Better, But I’d Still Appreciate the Call

Over the weekend, I had a conversation with someone I hadn’t heard from in a while. They wanted to know what they’d done to hurt my feelings. There was awkward silence after awkward silence while I tried to explain that it was actually what they hadn’t done, but that they weren’t the only ones who hadn’t done it. Since I lost my son last year, there has been this steady drifting away of people that I knew before the tragedy. ‘Drifting’ isn’t really the right word. It’s been more like an exodus.

Over the months, I’ve heard things like:

I thought you would call if you needed to talk.

I didn’t think you’d want to talk about it.

I was afraid that if you were okay, me asking how you were would make things worse.

I just don’t know what to say.

You just aren’t the same.

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