I’ve read many accounts of authors writing in unlikely places. In a long line at the supermarket. In a doctor’s waiting room. Poolside during their kid’s swimming lesson. In a car in the middle of a traffic jam.
I’ve tried this a few times. For example, three months ago I brought my car to the mechanic for an oil change. I had a pen, my notepad, and an enthusiastic attitude. I was ready. I had the waiting area all to myself. I settled in a chair, took a glance at Good Morning America on the television, and put my pen to paper. I wrote a sentence. Then a second sentence. And then Katy Perry came on the TV. She was dressed in a cheerleader’s outfit for a performance at a Colorado school. I watched for a moment and then went back to my writing. But then after the commercial break, GMA had a story about Tori Spelling’s financial troubles. Oh no! I had to listen and learn how a woman of such privilege ended up in financial straits.
After that, three people came in to get coffee. Two men at the counter started talking about catalytic converters. Katy Perry was back on the television. I sighed and looked at my two sentences, trying to reclaim my train of thought. As soon as I had a grasp on it, my mechanic came in and told me my car was ready.
I left believing I wasn’t among the authors who can write at any time, any place. Structure, that’s what I need, I thought.
That changed yesterday. Cardinal Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York came to my church to say the Saturday Vigil Mass. I had been excited about this visit since its announcement two weeks ago. My mother and I got to the church ninety minutes early. I figured if congregants arrived at the Christmas Eve Mass an hour early, they’d get to the church even earlier for Cardinal Dolan.
I know I should have spent those ninety minutes in prayer. I hate to admit I didn’t. I should have brought a Bible or some other spiritual material to read. Instead, I packed a small notebook and pen in my bag. I had thoughts about a blog post and ideas for a future guest post that I wanted to put down on paper.
Once I had said my prayers and settled in the pew, I took out my notebook and pen. There were distractions, of course. Our pastor and deacon hustled around the church, making a final check that everything was ready for the Mass. The choir assembled and took last-minute instruction from their director. Penitents lined up for confession along the wall behind my pew (No, I didn’t overhear anything. And if I did, I would observe the priest’s vow of what happens in the confessional stays in the confessional.). The pews filled, with many talking about the inclement weather. Some folks came in wondering about the fuss. “Is there a wedding?” one man asked.
With all of this going on around me, I wrote! My pen rolled swiftly over the pages as my thoughts flowed easily. I marveled each time I turned a page. “Wow.” I thought. “Is this divine inspiration, or divine intervention?”
I finally put the pen and notebook away and enjoyed the moment. The church bells rang, signaling the start of Mass. The Knights of Columbus, wearing their plumed hats, entered. Our priests and deacon processed up the center aisle, followed by Cardinal Dolan. He waved, both his staff and free hand, as he approached the altar. A cheer went through the crowd and incense filled the air.
Cardinal Dolan was his usual warm, friendly, witty self. At the start of his homily, he thanked our priests, deacon, and choir. He introduced a few people, joking that he “felt like Jerry Springer.” The homily itself was wise and though-provoking. The main point: We are all God’s beloved. The world would be a better place, Cardinal Dolan said, if we each recognized that and treated ourselves and each other accordingly.
During the Mass, I decided to scrap the blog post I had jotted in my notebook and write instead about my pre-service breakthrough. I will not make it a regular habit of writing in the pew before Mass begins. But I certainly will carry a pen and notebook with me, just in case divine inspiration/intervention strikes again.