MICHEL MARTIN, host:
(Soundbite of music)
MARTIN: …it's time for our final essay from the award winning series This I Believe. This series brought our program the voices of everyone from political leaders to high school students who shared their most deeply held beliefs with us. And now the person who helped us bring those voices to you, series curator Jay Allison. Jay?
JAY ALLISON: Hi, Michel. For our last essay on Tell Me More, we are going to hear from writer Luis Urrea. He was born in Mexico to an American mother and a Mexican father, and his dual culture background influences his work. For him, literature and life, story and belief are all intermingled. Here's Luis Urrea with his essay for "This I believe."
Mr. LUIS ALBERTO URREA (Author): I believe God is a poet. Every religion in our history was made of poems and songs, and not a few of them had books attached. I came to believe the green fuse that drives spring and summer through the world is essentially a literary energy, that the world was more than a place, life was more than an event. It was all one thing, and that thing was story. I was in a small house in Cuernavaca with old healer women. We were eating green Jell-O.
One of them told me this: When you write, you light a bonfire in the spirit world. It is dark there. Lost souls wander alone. Your inner flame flares up, and the lost souls gather near your light and heat. And they see the next artist at work and go there. And they follow the fires until they find their ways home.
Aside from thinking my old Baptist preacher would not be amused by this kind of pagan talk, I recognized the beauty and awe, the deep respect in a woman who didn't read for the act of literary creation. Now, if it is all story, I believe we are the narrators. Many writing instructors will tell you that to be a great writer, you must be attentive. Shamans will tell you the same thing: If you want to be a good person, a whole person, wake up. Pay attention. Be here now. Zen monks will go so far as to hit you with a stick. Look.
I used to approach writing like a football game. If I went out there and aggressively saw more, I'd know more and I'd capture more, and I'd write better. Hut, hut, hut - first down and haiku. But I found out something entirely different. I learned that if I went into the world and paid attention - in Spanish, you lend attention, presta atencion - the world would notice and respond. I would have demonstrated my worthiness to receive the world's gifts. It's a kind of library where you lend attention and receive a story. Or God will toss off a limerick for your pleasure. In South Carolina recently, I was telling my hosts before a speaking engagement all about this idea.
I told them that story comes on the wings of hummingbirds and dragonflies. My host told me to turn around. A hummingbird hovered outside the window, three inches from the back of my head. After the event, I was in the street enjoying the silence. A dragonfly came and hovered over my head. Both times, all I had to do was look.
ALLISON: Luis Urrea with his essay for This I Believe. Urrea's most recent novel is "The Hummingbird's Daughter," and his next one about to be released is "Into the Beautiful North." That was our last essay for TELL ME MORE, Michel. We want to thank all your listeners who sent us their writing. There's a link to all of the more than 65,000 essays submitted at npr.org/thisibelieve. And after four years on the air, the final essay of the series will air this Sunday on WEEKEND EDITION. For This I Believe, I'm Jay Allison. Back to you, Michel.
MARTIN: Thank you Jay. We've enjoyed it.