You never know what to say when you’re up there. Your name is called. There’s a presenter, a certain presenter picked just for you, waiting to hand you the honour, the certificate in this case, the paper of recognition that has your name on it. You walk up and you receive it and then, besides a simple ‘thank you,’ you never know what to say.
This is how it is at these writers’ galas where there are excerpts read and awards given and words spoken and music and laughter and even a lump in your throat when someone says something particularly poignant.
Now, to pat each other on the back for doing what we would do anyway makes me feel a little uneasy and I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way. A foot needn’t be told how well he’s doing when he takes part in the act of walking, he just keeps taking one step after another because this is what he’s been made to do.
On the other hand, the act of writing does have an unglamorous reality that is carried out in silence and aloneness and often frustration, often with the feeling that you’re walking in the pitch of night, walking and not knowing exactly where you’re going or if it even matters to anyone else. So anything to remind you that you’re not alone can be helpful.
This is how it unfolded not long ago when My Bride and I ran out the front door to attend a certain gala, an evening to see the outcome as some of my newspaper work had been shortlisted. “You mean you don’t even know if you won? Why would you drive all that way if you don’t even know if you’ve won?” my 10-year-old daughter said as we got into the car.
So, when I was called to the front later that evening, this is what came to mind to share. That my ever pragmatic little girl, who is a young writer of sorts herself, would be proud and happy to know that this drive – it wasn’t’ that far, really – wasn’t a total waste of fuel.
But something else happened, as it often does at these events. At the hall entrance there was a quote, not entirely hidden but likely not read by many either, a line by Helen Keller, arguably the 20th century’s most well-known blind person, a champion of many just causes, not the least of which was to find the light in her own day-to-day in darkness.
“I cannot do everything,” is what she said. “But I can do something. I will not refuse to do the something that I can.”
I read it and then I forgot about it. No, Helen Keller or her words did not come to mind even when I walked to the front and looked at my particular presenter and positioned myself in the right place, held his hand, held the certificate together with him, and looked at the camera for the cheesy photo and wondered if it was all okay. I hoped it was because my presenter, in fact, was blind.
He had been slowly led up to the podium by a woman, his guide, and then down the stairs back to his seat when he and I were finished. It wasn’t until later when I got the chance to say to him that of all the presenters I could have had, I was glad he had been chosen for me, this blind man who, I then learned, makes his living by reading audio books by Braille.
And even then, when I was talking to this blind man, I didn’t think of blind Helen Keller or her words. No, I made no connection at all. It was only later when I had a minute to think, a minute to myself, and when I looked at the words I had copied in my notebook, that it all began to take shape and give meaning.
No, I cannot do everything. None of us can. But I can do something. I can get up and walk. Any of us can.