I live in Columbia, South Carolina, parts of which were completely underwater just two weeks ago. I know people who lost everything. I was fortunate. I lost only the use of my tap water.
I had to go to the drug store Tuesday after the major flooding on Sunday. When I left, just outside the door a guy stood playing his guitar. His case was open, a few stray dollar bills littered its inside. I stopped and asked him if he had been affected. He had. He and his young family had been evacuated and displaced. He had not yet been to his home, but he knew, as did I, it was submerged.
I dropped everything I had in my wallet in his guitar case, not because I felt sorry for him, but because I admired him. He had lost everything but his ability to play his music, to put his art on display. The last place that man probably wanted to be was standing outside a pharmacy depending on the generosity of strangers. But there he stood. He humbled himself to earn money through his art to provide for his family. I thought that took guts.
We writers are fond of saying how lonely a profession writing is, but I imagine that’s true of all artistic expression. All art, if it’s done well, exposes the artist’s vulnerabilities. It lays bare his or her soul. And that is an intimidating experience. Writers often shy away from saying the words, “I am a writer,” or “I am a novelist.” Either sounds a bit pretentious.
The guitar player helped me get over that particular insecurity. For many in Columbia, there will be no insurance settlement. For some, I imagine, the help the government offers will be too complex, too frustrating, or too bureaucratic to pursue. They will be the ones to humble themselves. They will be the people who will put their talents, if they have them, on display for the world to see, because, frankly, they may not have a choice.
I didn’t ask the guitar player his name. I’m glad I didn’t. I don’t need to know. He plays music. I write books. His bravery gave me the courage to say it out loud. I am a writer, and I am proud to be one.