As a writer, I enjoy the luxury of taking time to form the jumble of thoughts that spill from my mind onto the page into something coherent -maybe even elegant, if I'm lucky. At first, I splatter words like paint-balls. I come back to massage and rearrange them in ways that will hopefully become something artistic, or at least comprehensible. Revise, revise, and revise again. I form these thoughts into sentences and paragraphs in solitude, trying to bring them as close as possible to perfection before I hit the "Publish" button. I do this mostly on my own schedule. I have all the time in the world to find the right words. Usually.
Last month, I took a call from a relative I hadn't spoken to in a few years. He lives in the same small Montana town where I grew up. After a brief "Hello," he asked: "Are you somewhere safe? Can you sit down? I'm afraid this is one of those calls you never want to get..."
My mind whirled with horrifying possibilities, each worse than the last. None perhaps as bad as reality. In the moments that followed, I learned of the death of my thirteen-year-old nephew. Worse still, it was apparently a suicide. The worst possible thing in the worst possible way. Whatever I had been working on, I lost track of it. I couldn't think straight for days. My wife made quick arrangements, and we drove to Montana. My sister came along. Due to the length of the trip, we checked into a hotel at the halfway point, and did the same on the return drive. Due to the nature of the situation, we could only stay for two days. We spent four days on the road in order to spend two days with family.
We spent time our time there not solving anything, or offering any sage wisdom, but just being there. I wanted there to be words that could make sense of it, that could
somehow make my family feel better or bring some sort of insight, but
there are no such words. Any pretense of wisdom or advice in a situation like that is hollow, and I already felt hollow enough without adding any poorly chosen thoughts. Instead, I tried to be useful. We helped the family pack and move to a new home. They couldn't bear the thought of being in that house any longer. The community came together to make this possible. One local business paid for a temporary motel stay. A local homeowner invited the family into her empty house, which had been up for sale, and gave them a good deal on rent. An anonymous donor paid for all of the funeral expenses. Dozens of people showed up with trucks and trailers and trunks full of boxes. We packed and kept an eye on the younger kids while the adults took care of funeral arrangements and dealt with all the other unpleasantness. Occasionally, someone would think too hard about why we were all there and then break down in tears. Personally, I just couldn't dwell on the situation. I couldn't think about it. I had to stop searching for a reason why, or a way to make sense of it. Stop looking for words. Just get through it, do what needs to be done...
If it was like that for me, I can't even imagine how it felt to his parents.
A few days later, I came back home to a mess. I'm still working on the addition on my house. I've had to pause construction several times, for various reasons. As usual, the more plans I make, the more things don't go according to plan. Work that I had expected to be done months ago (the roof!) is just getting done now. Other things (the engineering and permit for removing a wall -all scheduled for next year) are already done. In the midst of it, there came a few days of early rain at the beginning of October. The project will be okay, but water running through an open roof and walls is never good.
So now it's autumn. The weather is cool and pleasant. Fallen leaves line the streets. I'm slowly coming to grips with the tragedy, and beginning to get my head straight. I have two books that need some work before I can publish, and a third that should have been finished by now, but I haven't really even started. I can't work on those though, because I must get this project buttoned up before the rain really starts. I have the siding on and painted, and I'm working on the roofing. Until that's done, my writing is in limbo.
So please be patient with me, and say a prayer for my family. They need it. In the meanwhile, I hope you're all having a great autumn and remembering to savor every precious moment you have with people the you love. Tell them now while you have time to find the words.