It’s truly an honor to meet people when I go to book events. Night after night I hit the keyboard and wonder why or if any of it matters. Sometimes I get to actually find out why it does.
This weekend my wife and I went to the first Fredericksburg Independent Book Festival. I rented a table to show off my work and maybe get the word out. We had a little time to kill before we had to set up so we stopped by the local coffee shop. On the way back we met a couple who asked me about my tee shirt. For those of you who’ve never seen me at a show, I have a special tee shirt I wear with my website on it.
The couple were elderly, maybe in their late 60s/early 70s. Within a minute or two, she told us something you don’t ordinarily hear in conversations. She was going to die, and soon. She had terminal cancer.
Let that sink in for a moment.
She just told me that she was going to die. Not might, not in the process of fighting it, but she has cancer which was now in her marrow and she was no longer able to do anything about it.
What does one say to something like that? As a writer, you’re used to having time to come up with something to say. But there are never the right words to react to something like that. We asked them if they were coming to the book festival and she said they were, but were on their way to get coffee first. They promised to come back and see us at the show.
A little while later, I saw the same woman coming around the booths. Quickly, I grabbed a chair and gave her a place to rest. I could tell that even in that short time she had expended a lot of her available energy. We also had a nice canopy where it was shaded. She joined us for a while and I got to learn a little more about her. The details were irrelevant, but what was important was her spirit.
She was there to find books to stockpile for the fast approaching time where she could no longer walk. We discussed how important it was to keep the mind sharp and the books were her way of passing the time before the inevitable happened.
She was not afraid to die. She told me that she was excited about it. She knew what was waiting for her on the other side and it gave her a sense of calm.
Although she didn’t buy one of my books, I was still glad she spent some time with us. It reminded me that as writers we never know what the impact of our work could be. I want to be a writer who entertains. That’s the charge I give myself every time I sit down at the computer. You never know if that book you wrote was is just a welcome distraction or a needed distraction for someone who is facing a reality which if far harsher than your own. In essence, you never know if that is the last book that person would ever read.
The impact of the life of a writer is never fully realized. They might anger in the short term and comfort over the long. There’s truly no way of knowing. Plenty of writers became famous after they died.
The couple left us and made their way around the rest of the booths. Some part of me would love to know how many books she reads before the day of her passing, but I’m sure it will be quite a few. I was touched by her elegant outlook on the afterlife and I’m very glad to have met her.
-Your Humble Servant