A strange cure for writer's block
I slouched at my tiny desk with my fingers entangled in my tousled hair, staring at a blank page showing on my laptop. I couldn't think of a thing to write about. I thought that maybe if I just devoted myself to the task of writing a story, the rest would come easily - but I'd been at this all morning with no luck. I stopped my intense thinking to peruse my notes, searching for inspiration, after which I hesitantly typed a sentence. The sea was calm and the water undulated gently in frothy waves. I looked at it for a couple of seconds and then held down the backspace key. I needed to write something powerful, something that mattered. Not a pretty beach scene. I banged my fist on the desk, rattling a mug containing the cold dregs of an early coffee brew and knocking a pen onto the floor.
I stood up and began to pace around the cramped apartment. But even this was frustrating, as there wasn't enough room to pace, what with my desk, twin-sized bed, and beaten-up wardrobe occupying the living space. There was only a small area between my desk and the door. Suddenly, I was exhausted. I loved writing, but I couldn't do it without the fire of conviction that drives my stories. I flopped down on my bed in despair. I had barely laid down when the smartphone next to me started ringing. My usual vigor returned as I saw the name on the screen: Dr. Brandon Stephens. Perfect timing! I picked up the phone before it rang a second time.
"Hey! How's it going?" I said, perhaps a bit too enthusiastically.
"Hey, Rob. You seem to be in an inappropriately good mood, once again."
"Does that mean-"
"Yes, yes. It's just an old lady, though."
"Perfect! Thank you so much."
"Hurry, I don't think she has much time left. And hey, remember to somber up a bit around the family."
"I know, I know. I'll be right over."
I grabbed my notebook off the desk and my pen from the floor before heading out the door. I got into my car and drove to the hospital a short distance away. It was a small hospital, just adequate for the small town that I lived in. Nevertheless, I got calls from my friend often enough. Brandon was a doctor and liked helping me out with my stories in whatever way he could. I stepped into his office where he greeted me warmly with a firm handshake.
"Good morning Rob. What are you writing these days?"
"Uh, well ya know...Didn't you say that I needed to hurry?"
"Oh, right. She's in Room 9."
"Thanks!" And I was gone.
Hurrying through the hallway, my nostrils were pervaded with the familiar sterile scent of iodoform. I looked at the door numbers ahead of me, searching for the right one. 7...8...9... There it is! A nurse stood in my way.
"Good morning, Pastor! It always brings a smile to my face when I see you caring for God's children."
"I couldn't remember her name. "Uh yeah. It's my pleasure." I could see she wanted to talk more so I added, nodding towards Room 9, "Actually, I've got to-"
"Oh, yes of course. You going to see Beatrice? She's a sweet one, poor soul-"
"Sorry, I've really got to go. God bless you!"
She was still talking when I made it to the door and stepped into the silent room. Heads turned towards me, inquiringly.
"I'm Pastor Rob."
Their expressions cleared into somber gratitude, but I was soon forgotten as someone said, "She's awake!" Everyone huddled around the hospital bed, and I stood on the outer edge of the group looking at the thin, wrinkled old lady who lay there. I opened my notebook and readied my pen. The lady's eyes were vibrant blue and contained a lucidity that I would not expect in someone who was so sick. A middle-aged woman who stood with her hands on the side of the bed said to her in a sad, breaking voice, "I love you, Mom." The old lady locked eyes with her daughter and said, "Watch the clouds." The words sounded completely understanding, like she knew the entirety of what her daughter was feeling, but the words themselves were seemingly nonsensical. I wrote them down in my notebook. This is what I had come for. The lady released her final breath and silent tears streamed down the daughter's face. I was about to leave when a young man in his early twenties asked me to pray.
"Uhh...of course." I walked back over and closed my eyes. Slowly, doubtfully, I began to pray. "God...this is a uh an important day that um we will all remember with sadness. It is unfortunate that she er...she uh died. But she was a good woman with a kind heart and...now she's in heaven. Amen."
There was an awkward moment of silence then, "Thank you, pastor." I left.
I was in the hallway when I heard the door open and the sound of footsteps coming toward me. I turned to see the young man who had asked me to pray. He seemed less bereaved than the others.
He got straight to the point.
"Why did you pretend to be a pastor?"
I didn't know what to say.
"Come on, what kind of a prayer was that? Besides, I saw you writing in your notebook."
I decided it was useless to continue the deception and tried to explain briefly.
"I use people's last words to write stories. I pretend to be a pastor so that I can get into the hospital rooms and so I don't seem disrespectful. My friend, Brandon, is a doctor here and he calls me whenever someone is about to die."
I expected him to be angry, but he actually smiled!
"Well, of all things, I did not expect you to be a writer."
"The pastor ruse usually works well...though I've never been asked to pray before."
The young man chuckled lightly. "Sorry about that. You should come to church sometime."
"Good idea. Maybe it will help me act a little more convincingly."
"Well, that's true, but there are much more significant benefits than that."
"Ok, well I'll think about it." But I had other things on my mind.
"Hey, good luck on your story."
I exited the building and climbed back into my little car. As I drove home, my mind was occupied with thoughts about those 3 last words. Watch the clouds. I didn't know what they meant, so I let my imagination loose, discovering new meaning behind the simple words. The strange circumstance in which I retrieved the words helped. There was something romantic about the syllables on the lady's dying breath, tragic though the death itself was. That short amount of time before she died, she seemed to be in a different world completely, hovering between life and death. The words she said reflected this other-worldliness and took on a strange cryptic meaning. I didn't believe in heaven, but sometimes, listening to the strange sentences of the people dying made me wonder if there was at least some kind of afterlife. It was as if from standing on the brink, they could see across into the next life, the next dimension. Teetering on the edge before finally falling off.
I couldn't wait to get back to my computer. The experience I had with the dying lady was bursting at the confines of my mind and needed to be put into writing. Unlocking the door, I found my apartment exactly as I had left it just an hour before. The unmade bed that I had hopelessly fallen on, the cluttered kitchenette, and the desk with its coffee mug and laptop. The only thing that had changed in the room was that the laptop's screen had turned black from being left alone. I sat down and pulled the chair close to the desk.
This is when an incredible thing happened. My fingers, previously under my control, started acting on their own. They moved across the keyboard in a blur and, line after line, words formed on the page, far faster than I seemed to think of them. That coal of my heart that I thought had burned out was in fact still alive, being fanned by the last words of the dying woman. It was now a burning fire that spread to the page in front of me, creativity and conviction coming to life.
Late into the night, my fingers finally slowed and I became aware of all that I had written. It had been hours and I hadn't stopped for a meal or gone to the bathroom once. I promptly did each of these before going to bed. When I woke up, I looked back at my computer. I was amazed. How did this happen? Had it not been just yesterday morning when I was so empty of ideas and so full of despair? But now I had pages and pages of inspired words that glowed in Calibri 11 on my very own computer! It would need some major editing, of course, but I was ready to take on the challenge because now, I wasn't writing for myself. I was writing for the dying lady in Room 9, and she had a story to tell.