The past few weeks have been crazy for me. I spent another week in NC, tending to my parents; I returned home to find over forty manuscripts waiting in my pile of mail to be sorted and distributed to the proper agent or editor; and I had a slew of NJ SCBWI raffle donation emails to respond to.
I also held a secret—a secret I had learned two days prior in the presence of my father.
After an afternoon of doctor appointments, my father sat in his wheelchair in the living room. As tired as he was, we needed to discuss his wishes. The topic: when parents age, what becomes most important is quality of life, not quantity.
“I want to write and spend time talking to and being with my family,” he said. “That’s all. No more hospitals.”
He, in turn, understood my mixed feelings about his decision. Instead of taking a much-needed nap, he wanted to help me. (At that moment, I knew why I am the way I am.) I am proud to say I am my father’s daughter.
Even in pain he reaches out to us. He supports my writing and relishes in my small successes. Every day, his attitude inspires me. Recognizing my struggle with his decision, he began to tell me his wonderful stories. He talked. I listened and laughed, while arranging books in the living room. (I had just purchased two tall wooden bookcases for the apartment.)
I want my father to get better, but he needs to be able to write. Just as I need to write. Like I need to breathe, eat, and sleep. This is when we are at our happiest.
Looking over at him, I thought about this, when my cell phone rang. I had won the 2011 New Voices in Children’s Literature Tassy Walden Award—middle grade category. My entry: Savannah’s Mountain.
My dad stopped telling his stories. He sat in his wheelchair and listened to me. He listened to me be astounded and humbled. He listened to me cry.
After I shared the secret phone call with him, he asked how my writing was going.
“Then do something else creative to fuel your writing. To help you relax.”
“Okay, dad, I’ll go outside and take more pictures—only if you promise to rest.”
“I know, Dad, and I don’t.”
“You must love the gift. You must care for the gift. But most importantly, you must feed the gift.”
“No, I have some left, but if you’re going out later . . .” He reached into his shirt pocket and took out a package of his favorite candy. After eating one piece, he continued. “You feed the gift by writing as much as you can. Wherever you can, even when life throws hardballs at you, one after another.”
“Like now?” I asked.
“Exactly like now. Life will always throw challenges at you, and there will be times when the world seems ruthless and unforgivable, but you can’t let that stop you from doing something you love. You have to make yourself a promise.”
Savannah’s Mountain involves promises, and the need to keep and honor a promise. So it seems fitting that before my dad headed for a nap, he asked something of me. “Promise me you will keep writing, even when I’m gone.”
I can’t imagine a world without him, without being able to pick up a phone to call him, or see and talk to him on Skype. A world without his humor and Skittle seeking schemes is a world I don’t want to imagine, not now, not yet. But my father asked me to make him a promise, so I did.
“I promise, Dad. As long as I’m breathing, I’ll continue to write.” I pushed him to his bedroom, gave him a kiss, and headed outside with my camera on my shoulder. After I took some of the photos I am sharing in this post, I found a quiet place overlooking bird feeders, blooming iris, and a family of deer.
I did as I promised. I wrote for my dad. I wrote for me. I wrote for the sheer joy of writing.