breathing sanctuary

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.


Friday, JT posted about the refuge she felt at the library and Saturday, Alex posted about a writing retreat, and it reminded me that we are breathing the sanctuary of words.

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?

12 thoughts on “breathing sanctuary

  1. pari noskin taichert

    Oh, Toni,What a beautiful, heartfelt post. I almost don’t want to comment, but simply let your WORDS sink in again and again . . .

    But let’s start the conversation.

    First of all, may Major Olmstead rest in peace. May his family find solace in his WORDS . . .

    Your questions are important.Tomorrow, I’ve got a post about objectionable content. It seems fitting after yours . . .

    The thing I’ve learned about my writing is that even though my goals are similar to yours, as reflected in that wonderful letter you received, I always end up having these deeper, more serious themes.

    At first, with CLOVIS, I didn’t intend to. Now, I know what the major theme are.

  2. billie

    I agree, Toni, a lovely post that makes such a mood I don’t want to interrupt it.

    What my writing says about me: that I love words and language and rhythm, that I’m keenly interested in the fine details of character and motivation, as well as the magic and mystery that winds through the characters’ lives. What they do when they discover pieces of that magic. How they manage the darkness and the light.

    It’s a gift from you to get me thinking on this today – after the last 4 days re-entering the real world after my writing retreat, it’s time to go back to the books, and this is a perfect way back in.

  3. cj lyons

    Wow, Toni! Your post brought tears to my eyes–and I had already wept after reading Major Olmstead’s last post (and the story behind his blog) earlier this week.

    How I wish I could share the gift of laughter like you do! I truly admire anyone who writes humor.

    Instead, all I can offer through my writing is a glimmer of hope–that heroes are born everyday, that we can all make a difference.

    At least I hope that’s what people will take from my work. Sometimes it seems a small offering to make in a world as dark as ours….

    Thanks for the great post reminding us of the power of our words!

  4. toni mcgee causey

    Pari, thank you for the kind words. And I think darker themes are necessary–it gives the reader a chance to explore things in their own lives, or things they have no control over, and have the opportunity to see how others connect, how they handle these things (or don’t). It’s entertainment, certainly, and important.

  5. toni mcgee causey

    CJ, that’s very sweet of you, but sharing every day heroes is just as important. In no way would I want to leave the impression that laughter is the highest goal… it’s just the one I happen to have. Having stories of love, of heartache, of death and mystery — all of these things are just as important.

  6. toni mcgee causey

    Louise, well, you do way more than just “a few hours escape” — you give the reader insights and entertainment, a richness of a world and exquisite writing. I’m not sure there is anything better we can offer.

  7. JT Ellison

    Oh, Toni. You’ve done it again.

    This is going to sound crazy, but this year, when I watched IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE (one of my Christmas Eve traditions) I had this strange epiphany. I certainly don’t think I’ve changed the world, or that it would be a poorer place without me in it, but for the very first time, I realized that I may have had an effect on someone outside my personal circle. Someone, somewhere may have read my book and taken something away from it. It was a wild thought.

    As far as my themes, I seek to represent the strength and resilience of the human being, and justice for those who don’t get it in real life. Light little topics, you know.

  8. Catherine

    I’m sort of an obnoxious optimist. I like to think for each piece of technology that can isolate, there is also one that can help connect.

    Words connecting people. Sharing thoughts, spoken or in text,fiction or non-fiction is such a fundamental part of my life.

    Connectedness has some weird loops though. Without Muderati, I wouldn’t of been lucky enough to get a sneak peek at Pari’s new book through winning an ARC.Which I very much enjoyed. I also wouldn’t of stood in a big name brand store in a little seaside city in Australia and smiled so broadly when I saw a couple of copies JT’s book…even after I’d ordered my own through a little independent store(and loved it).

    Without a sense of connectedness I wouldn’t of taken the time to send an email sharing this with JT. Which I’m so pleased to see made her week a little brighter.Yep, words connecting people.

  9. toni mcgee causey

    Thanks, Gary, I’ll fix it now. I even looked at it again when I posted, and didn’t see what I’d typed. Yikes.

    JT, thanks — and I never had any doubt you positively affected people. I love your description of what you’re saying to the world. It’s a universal need, that light against injustice and the fight for the victims.

    Catherine, yep, we surge forward, and isolate, and yet still look for connections. I think you’re right — we keep producing things to stay connected, and I think we’ll always have that craving.


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