Strangers Who Write Me

Today I got an email from a stranger. No not a spam email trying to sell me timeshares or a phishing email to help some poor Nigerian claim an inheritance, but a person who had read Andrea Mason’s review of my book, Ahead of the Flaming Front in High Country News. She sought out my book and read it. It turned out she had known one of the guys on my crew who had died. She wanted to tell me thanks for capturing his, “it’s all good,” spirit and some of his rough edges. It gave her pause to reflect on the man she had known and the man who had helped her make it through some tough times. I wrote her back and told her I appreciated her reading the book and was touched by her emailing me.
Last year when the book first came out I’d received an email from the sister of one of my good friends who was also dead. She reached out to me and I wrote back and she also took some measure of solace that I had written about her brother and told stories no one in her family knew. They got to look at him though a window from which I had pulled back the curtains.
It is no surprise the dead hold such sway over us. To cause strangers to reach out over the impersonal internet. To reach out and say thanks for telling me this story I didn’t know about this person I loved.
I know the dead have an elemental force over us like the snow in James Joyce’s story “The Dead”, “thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns.” Wherever we turn they can be there.
The dead have secrets. I mean secrets in the way my martial arts teacher meant secrets–things that have not been revealed to us. Those we knew went out into the world and had experiences we have no idea about. It must be something to find yourself reading about a person you loved in action and pause with a smile, a grimace, a laugh or a groan. Maybe some shock. No matter. A new story has been revealed. A story that can be retold and passed down. A story that causes a person to write someone they don’t know outside of what they read. The writer has brought the person into a different light for the living. This was something I didn’t fully realize when I wrote the memoir, but there it is.
As I wrote the memoir I worried about how those lost crew members would be perceived. I wanted to be truthful, but not disrespectful. The dead cannot answer for themselves. I worried about not offending those who had lost someone. I worried about it a lot, but kept in mind to be honest, and let their actions speak for themselves. I did the best I could.
Strangers write me about the dead, and it’s all good.

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