Years ago I did a signing at the Bellevue Village QFC in Bellevue, Washington. It was during the Christmas season, so the parking enforcers were out in force, as it were, making sure that the people parked in the QFC lot were either inside the grocery store or else in Bartell Drugs, rather than toddling off across the street to BellSquare or the University Bookstore.
During the signing a fan had come up to me, gushing about how wonderful she thought my books were. When Bill and I left the signing, he said, “You’re really lucky. You get psychological income from what you do. No one comes up to the guys out here in the parking lot–the ones putting chalk marks on tires–and tells them “Thank you for doing what you do. I really appreciate it, and I think you’re doing a great job.”
I’ve had a lot of psychological income over the years. It’s one of the reasons I read all my e-mail. One of my all-time favorite e-mails came from a reader in Oklahoma. She said, “I have read everything you have wrote. I have loved everything you have wrote.” Why was that such high praise? Because that note was written by a woman for whom English didn’t come easily. Even so, she was able to read and enjoy my books. It’s one of the reasons I try to write in a readily accessible fashion, so people don’t have to have dictionaries at their fingertips in order to read my stories.
The responses to the non-fiction part of this summer’s Beaumont book, Second Watch have been astonishing–breathtaking and heartbreaking at the same time. This morning I received one from a gunnery sergeant retired from the USMC. He said, “I just finished Second Watch. I still have tears in my eyes–what a story! I suppose my military career in the Marine Corps is a factor, but you have made that story of Doug (Lennie D.) and Bonnie so real, I can’t help my emotions. I just haven’t been so moved by a book in a long time.” I’ve never served in the military, but receiving those kinds of comments from someone who has really moved me, too.
It was an honor for me to be able bring the stories of Doug Davis and Bonnie Abney–their love and subsequent loss–to light. It means more than I can say that someone from Mesa, a guy who recently read Second Watch, went to Bisbee this past weekend, found his way to Evergreen Cemetery, located Doug’s grave, and sent me photographs of the head stone. I’m sure those kinds of gestures mean even more to Bonnie than they do to me, because they let her know that her beloved Douglas–a man whose service, heroism, and sacrifice were long forgotten–is now being remembered and honored by people all over the country and around the world, people who never knew him. Through the miracle of popular fiction, I’ve been able to put a face on one of those 60,000 names on that wall in Washington.
Then there’s the other e-mail that rocked me this week. It came from a woman who attended an event, a very early poetry reading of After The Fire in April of 1985. At that time, I had only two books in print–that chapbook edition of the poetry and a Children’s Personal Safety book called, “It’s Not Your Fault.” The woman who wrote the other day said that at the time she attended the reading, she, too, was caught up in a disastrous marriage and was trying to find her way out of her dire situation. Somehow, hearing my poems and realizing she wasn’t alone, galvanized her to action. She left the marriage, went back to school, got the degree she had always wanted in 1987, and has been living her dream ever since. She regards herself as a survivor, and she is, and she credits After The Fire for being the spark that set her on that path to survival.
It’s very generous of her to give me or my book any credit for her success. After all, she did all the work. But it’s still amazing that those poems–ones I wrote in the dark of night when I was using words to assuage my own hurt, despair, and grief–could have such a profound affect on the life of a complete stranger. She said that she wept as she read the book in 1985 because the things I wrote about were the same things that had happened to her. Her recent e-mail closed with the following: “I have a confession to make. Even though I have hung onto that book for all these years, I have never had the courage to read it again until this morning. I never shed a tear. I have survived and have learned to live again. I thank you, and I thank God for my life.”
And I thank her and that Gunnery Sergeant, too, for reaching out and writing to me. The psychological income of hearing how my words and books touch other people’s lives is a huge blessing in my own.
This week, because of those two wonderful folks, my cup runneth over.