A little over a week ago, Andrew Olmsted had someone post his final blog; it was something he’d prepared in the event of his death. Andrew was a Major in the army, stationed in Iraq. A sniper bullet killed him and Capt. Thomas J. Casey on January 3rd, and Maj. Olmstead–a regular blogger–left words behind for his readers, friends and family.
In his post, Maj. Olmstead asks that no one politicize his death and use it to make any pro or anti war arguments, and I think that greatly reflects the man he was. What struck me, though, and has stayed with me for days, is the description of himself he put up in his sidebar. It is the description of his philosophy, the thing he’d want the world to know about him:
"This is a vanity site that gives me the opportunity to comment on current events, or anything that catches my eye. What I post here is intended to put my thoughts on particular issues up for discussion; I do not pretend to be infallible or anything close to that. When I post something, it is what I believe, but it may be based on inaccurate information or faulty analysis. Where that occurs, I look to my readers to help me find the facts and improve my analytical abilities."
I did not know him, but I would have liked him. In addition to intelligence, he obviously had a sense of humor:
"But all the tears in the world aren’t going to bring me back, so I would prefer that people remember the good things about me rather than mourning my loss. (If it turns out a specific number of tears will, in fact, bring me back to life, then by all means, break out the onions.)"
I couldn’t begin to say for certain whether or not his words brought comfort to his family and friends, but I would imagine they did. I think one of the major drives in this fundamentally isolated society we have is a desire for connection, to know that we somehow have left our thumb print on the psyche of the world. It’s one of the reasons blogging has become so popular.
Years ago, before blogging, there was "online journaling" where everything was hand coded. By the time I joined into the fray, there were probably a whopping two or three thousand online journalers. The group got so large, they were able to stage conventions where they talked about how to journal, how to write the entries, topics of interest, etc. We all joined "journal rings" which were the result of cutting edge software that allowed a reader to move from one journal to another. These rings were generally organized around something the journalers had in common: location, political affiliation, eye color. And everyone proceeded to put their life online, much to the horror and shock of their parents and family and friends. The press would occasionally note the trend, and more often than not, the article would have the air of "what are these crazy people up to?" about it. And mostly, people wondered why on earth journalers would want to put their lives up for all the world to see.
We come into this world with shouts and exclamations and we go out with someone (hopefully) saying a few words over our grave. A couple of centuries ago, the in-between of those two stages pretty much guaranteed that the world we lived in would at the very least know us: as a society, we tended to stay put. We lived near extended family, traditionally had the same friends all our lives, the same neighbors. But now, we’re often separated from family and friends by miles or continents, we move around for jobs, we have MP3 players or cell phones shoved in our ears, computers on when the family comes home for dinner (if they even all manage to get there at the same time), and a world full of news of mismanagement and war and loss and need. It’s hard to feel connected.
I got a letter a few weeks ago that meant a lot to me. A woman wrote that her mom was dying of cancer and things there had been incredibly tense and difficult; she’d read my book and in the middle of all of that heartache, she’d laughed until she cried. If I could have ever chosen a few words to say about me at the end, I would choose her letter. I know the things (the life philosophies, the themes) that creep into my writing on what I’d like to say to and about the world. But if all that fails and I’m gone and the only thing the world sees is what my writing says about me, and it’s that laughter is a gift to share, then I’m good with that.
Words. Sanctuary. Refuge. Remembrance. Future.
When we write, we hope to entertain. Connect. We’d like to consider what we have to say to the world and look at our writing as a venue. But I think we also know that the words have a window back into our soul. So what does your writing say about you? Readers, what does your favorite author’s books say about them?