When my friend, Paul's, sister Cathy was dying recently his husband, Ben, told me that he was reading my stories to her.
Honestly, I still can't get that out of my head. I can just see Ben, who is super tall, sitting beside Cathy's bed, when she was very sick and everyone was heartbroken that she was dying, reading to her. Reading words that I wrote. Every time I think of it I feel like my work is done,
When I was a teacher I thought ... if I touch the life of just one kid in some good way, I've done a good job. I think I did OK. Many of those kids now have kids and some have either gotten in touch or stayed in touch with me. I am amazed, quite frankly, that so much time has passed since my classroom days.
As a mom, what I wish for most is that my kids find satisfaction out in the world. That they grow up and launch themselves and build a community of their own wherever they are. Sam and Nate are doing that. Beautifully, actually. It's breathtaking for me when I meet their friends, when they pick me up at the airport in their car and show me around their town. When their professors tell me that's the kind of kid everyone wants to teach, or I see a video of some great line they skied through fresh powder at what is now their mountain, not mine.
Coco is too young to drive, but I have seen her eyeing the wheel. Soon enough and she will be on her way.
There was a time, not long ago when I was putting a book together, some of my essays. I had a little book moment, read at the local bookstores, signed copies. It was kind of an out-of-body experience and truth be told, it felt a little weird. I like writing here, sitting looking out at Flower Brook flowing past my cottage, quiet and alone. Still, I got a taste of the limelight and I thought I wanted more. I wanted a larger audience, I wanted a book deal and a book tour. I wanted lots and lots of people to read my stories.
I dreamed of it, I thought I could will it into being. I summoned the powers, I shook my fists. I've been writing for years! I snorted to no one at all ... I want more readers! Only The Powers, as is so often the case, knew better than I what was good for me.
Or, rather, what the world was needing.
Same thing, I guess.
A larger audience came, but not in the form of anything book. In the form of an opportunity to be the news editor of The Charlotte News.
The editor had left weeks earlier and this charming and important non-profit community enterprise was starting to sink. I had been the editor ten years ago, and so knew a little bit about the thing.
The circles of life ... a whole other story.
So now I write for the paper. And, here's the even better part: I get to encourage other writers because it’s that kind of deal: the more participants, the better it gets. I get to encourage folks in town to write and kids at school to write. That’s a good gig right there and a whole lot more satisfying, I’m guessing, than showing up in a town far away, reading to a bunch of strangers, packing up and moving on.
This life ... why do I have to learn this lesson over and over? It is so not about me and so much about everyone else. The dreams I had for myself, they were standard issue, to want to be semi-famous or to make more money. In culture that values celebrities and glittery things and the limelight, they make sense. But to a heart that values connection and family and community, they don't.
I have a larger audience, in place called Charlotte. Nice place, by the lake, lots of farms, good kids, smart people who care a lot about where they live. The paper goes to every home twice a month. I write stories, I sometimes report on things happening, like they will on Wednesday when my suddenly-political-activist daughter leads the charge as she and her friends exit the building to honor the Parkland fallen and to show the world they mean business. More importantly, I get to caretake the 60-year-old tradition of putting together a non-profit newspaper for the readers in a small town in Vermont.
I keep circling back around to Ben and Cathy and Paul, whom I love so dearly, so much. There is no greater honor I could imagine, no best-seller dream, no hitting the road bookstore tour fantasy that could ever transcend the gift of knowing that some of Cathy's last days here were spent hearing my stories being read to her by gentle Ben. There is no better; that is as good as it gets.