I believe that every person has a book to write. I didn’t invent this idea, of course, but for me, it’s a mission.
I have thrived on the stories of others. In 1970, I was seven years old and living in Louisiana, when the Supreme Court sent a message to my school. I was a white Yankee girl bused to the Black school. And when I arrived there, I learned what separate but equal had really meant, but I also discovered in that tiny under-funded library, a treasury of Black history. No one was talking about those stories in school, but I was reading them on the sly.
Throughout my childhood, stories about Blacks, Jews, and Mormons filled me with courage and strength, endurance and gratitude. Naturally, my first novel was inspired by that. The Underground Railroad was still operating for me, and I owe it to my conductors to keep their memories alive.
Writing the story blesses the writer. It frees the soul from stories that have mercifully ended, so the pain can remain in the past as well. It preserves the more welcome memories, so the joy can be relived again.
Anyone who knows me has come to expect that when they tell me a great story, I’m gonna ask, “Have you written that down?” And when they share their wit and wisdom, I ask, “Do you know that would make a great book?”
I was in college when I realized my gift to hear others in that way. I was standing in line to mail a Christmas package, and an elderly man from Denmark turned to visit with me. Two hours later, I could understand his accent, and I knew his life story. I still remember his eyes–the joy he felt in telling his story. I realized that day that I have a face people can talk to. I have an invisible but indelible sign on me that says, “Yes! Yes, I will hear your story. Yes, your life matters to me. Yes, it matters that you lived, and that you have a story to tell.”
Most of my confidantes have been between 78 and 82 years old. There must be something about 80 that reminds people that time is running out. But for all of us, life is short. In one blink of an eye, I will be gone, and in another blink, everyone who remembers me will be gone as well. To leave a trace, I have to write it down, and send a message into the future. Writing is my time machine. I was mentored by people who were gone years, even centuries before me, and I have things to say to those who follow.
Every person has a book to write. That’s what I believe.
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