I’m editing my kingfisher manuscript. Every time I see where I’ve written the word “but,” I strike it out and rework the sentence. Every time, the result is better. Life is better when we discard the excuse, the caveat, or the lessening of an experience.
Yesterday’s tree expedition into the Deschutes National Forest with Wes and his daughter Andrea offers a good example. I could write this: “We found a wonderful tree in the snow and wind, but our hands froze strapping the fir to the top of the car.”
Switching that one word to “and” changes everything: and our hands froze. The fact takes nothing away from the glory of the moment. We’ve simply acknowledged a challenge, one that adds to the appreciation of the tree now gracing the living room.
I believe our relationships with friends, families, partners and those who we do not know or understand can flourish when we discard all “buts” and even “yets.” Language matters. Tone matters. We can be more direct, to the point, and neutral, rather than loading our sentences with mixed messaging. We can be gentle in our communication. We can be empowered.
I think about this as we enter a troubling time in the United States nationally, when it’s so tempting to opt out with a “but” in the face of the incoming storm. I could say, “I would speak up for justice and for our environment under siege, but I’m only one person…but I have a job and family to care for…but it’s too hard and overwhelming…but I’d rather hike for four years and come back when it’s all over.” Slip in that “and” word, and I’ve acknowledged feelings, fears, and the overwhelming desire to flee. I’m not opting out. It feels better to express the hard parts, and then go forward with strength.
It’s a small step, and all that I’m offering to start December. Try it out. Right now? I should be writing for work, and the sun is shining. I have a lot to do, and I’m going for a run in the forest. That said, I do have one more offering. Go outdoors into nature. Commune. Breathe in the birds on the wing. After all, as John Muir so eloquently reminds us:
“Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike.” (from The Yosemite, 1912, p. 256).