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Natalie Goldberg Deck: Card #9

Tell me what you forgot to say.

I’m working through the Natalie Goldberg deck of writing subjects. Each card in this world-renowned author and zen teacher’s Deck contains a writing topic on one side and a short lesson on the reverse, delivered in Natalie’s honest, heartfelt urgency. “This is my wish for you:” she says. “[T]hat you take these cards, grab the topic on one side and write, write, write . . . Remember no good or bad. Just words on the page.”

I forgot to say no.

No, I don’t want to be out here in the middle of nowhere where the antelope roam. I want to be in L.A. where Epic Records has offered me a future. I was 18 and it was summertime and a man of substance, an interesting, difficult, accomplished, gifted man of substance had said,

“Stay with me,”

and that eclipsed all my own substance, interest, difficulty and accomplishment. Well, it didn’t so much eclipse it as redefine it: If he loves me, I can just copy and paste that into my life, and it will save me the hard work of me loving me.

When my children dropped hints that there was trouble in the house too big to say out loud, I forgot to say, “Tell me. We’ve got all the time in the world.”

I never said to my mother, “Let’s not do anything spectacular today. Let’s not go shopping or have anyone over for lunch or dinner. Let’s just look at the fire in the fireplace.” I never asked about her childhood. I know all her stories by heart — the bits she got to do with her brother in her father’s Vaudeville show, etc. But I never asked her about what life was really like, what she loved, what she hated.

I forgot to say, “Yes” to my son calling from Miami. “Mom, you have to come down and get on the water with me. It’s the most incredible feeling. Can you come, like, tomorrow?” I couldn’t. I mean, technically, I could have, but I’d made commitments and so…

So many yesses I missed. Yes, I will stop what I’m doing and listen to you. Yes, I will go outside and walk our precious dog with you. Yes.

There are so many words I might have forgotten to say out loud.

Words like Stop,

and Wait,

and Let me think about it.

And No. And HELL No.

It’s all underneath the pathways I actually took, the things I did, the words I said, the life I lived. That whole scene is anchored to the earth by the things I forgot, the presence I withheld, the opportunities I refused, and the allies I pretended weren’t there.

When I die, I’ll have another go, carrying with me the karma of these moments I forgot to speak into.

But so far, my life has been full and fascinating. The cut and paste method didn’t work like I thought it would, but it gave me at least seven lives’ worth of lessons. And so — despite the odds, I’ve still managed to turn out substantive, interesting, difficult, accomplished, and gifted after all.

Like everyone is. Everyone reading this, and everyone not reading it. Each with their own stories of paths taken, and paths not taken. Substantive, gifted humans, all.


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