“Wheresoever you go, go with all your heart.” — Confucius
It was good advice from Confucius yesterday as I was on the train to the Elaine Galliker Author Visit in Parsippany, NJ. It popped out at me from a list of Confucius quotes that I had written in my writer’s notebook. So I set it as my intention, that I would be there with all my heart.
And boy, was I glad I did.
I shouldn’t be blogging today — I’m now ten days past my April 1 deadline for my next Alvin book (one month and ten days past my original March 1 deadline) — but my visit last night was so extraordinary, that I must write it down.
When you’re an author, and you meet people like the ones I met last night, you really need to stop and look at them. I don’t mean stop and stare. I mean stop. Really stop. And face them. And see them. I mean really see them, in the way that Emily Gibbs in the final act of Thornton Wilder’s play, Our Town, says we don’t do when we’re alive. Living people, occupied with their petty occupations and small thoughts “don’t have time to look at one another!” she declares from the grave. “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it — every, every minute?”
Yes, they do. When they’ve been close to the grave themselves. In this case, Elaine Galliker’s — a beloved and well-respected second-grade teacher, and a die-hard YANKEES fan (her daughter Lauren made sure I knew!), who passed away five years ago, on the day before yesterday. Her family and friends set up the Author Fund to continue her legacy of reaching out to young readers.
But it also reached out to me in an unexpected way.
Many of the chairs last night were occupied by Mrs. Galliker’s friends and former teaching partners. Her husband, Charlie, and their beautiful daughter Lauren, who everyone said looks just like her mom, were also there. And many families from the town were there with their children.
Their faces were lit with expectation as though they were waiting for something great, something absolutely wonderful. Something important.
For an hour, I held them in my thrall :).
But for that same hour, and in every hour since then, I’ve been held in their . . . their what? Their something. There was something that they gave me that was SO amazing, so absolutely important. What was it? Love and support? They gave me enthusiastic love and support.
There were more flowers and decorations than that! I just couldn’t get around to taking another photo because I got busy greeting everyone.
I missed getting a photo of their huge book sale table too.
It was a real lifesaver!
But there was something more . . . they gave me something so important, and yet I couldn’t quite put my finger on it.
Until I woke at four in the morning.
I ran to my shelves and grabbed my copy of Our Town, and I read the entire third act. It’s the graveyard scene. The dead people are sitting around, waiting expectantly, for “something great and important.” They see the beauty of everything. They’re more alive than the living.
That was it.
Somehow — I don’t know how — the Elaine Galliker Author Visit wasn’t about me talking about my books — instead, we were all there — atop Grover’s Corners staring life smack in the eye with wonder and amazement and deep, deep gratitude for the beauty of it all.
I grabbed my writer’s notebook and wrote:
“Death makes you wide awake. Writing makes you wide awake. There was something wide-awake about the people there. Life is a process of becoming wide-awake. We read to wake.”
When people are wide awake you see the substantialness of their character right away. Their pettiness and small thoughts are gone. Their eyes are focused on what Thornton Wilder called “something way down deep that’s eternal about every human being.”
And when you’re an author, and that happens to you, when someone — in this case, an entire community — sees the eternal in you, there’s nothing you can do but look back and see the same in them.
Your eyes are changed forever.
Thank you, Elaine Galliker and the Galliker Family, and all their friends and supportive community.
Thank you for a most extraordinary evening under the stars.
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For more photos, please visit their Facebook page here.