When I grow up . . .

by Pari

The last few months have been rough. I’ve lost long-time friends and acquaintances who felt like friends. Everywhere I turned there was death. Now the obits and eulogies have been written and spoken. The candles have been lit, the sungs sung.

What’s left?

The lessons of a life. That’s what.

Years ago when I was a mere pup of 28, I went to a funeral of a co-worker. Patty Kuswa died in a single car rollover between Albuquerque and Santa Fe. She was in her 40s. We were all stunned. She was at work one day, the next morning she was dead. Her funeral was astounding. The church was filled; people who couldn’t find seats inside waited in the rain to express their condolences to her parents, husband and young sons. Patty had touched hundreds of people in our community, in several completely different sectors.

Patty wasn’t famous; she was just a damn fine human being. That’s all.

Tony Hillerman was, too. He managed never to lose his humility or his humanity. For most of us, that would’ve been a challenge. But Tony soared in this most competitive field and still, somehow, seemed like a regular guy.

For a week, I’ve been reading accounts from published and unpublished writers, from readers, about how he encouraged them to keep going, how he made everyone feel like an equal. He had a wonderful we’re-all-in-this-together attitude and it was a balm for each person he met.

Someone — either an agent or an editor — dubbed Tony as a "blurb slut." It’s true. He was. Just about any author who asked got one because Tony was all about lifting writers up. He’d give out the name and contact info of his agent to anyone who asked, too. He’d talk about writing, the craft, the business — anything  — if you asked. And sometimes when you didn’t.

Frankly, Tony was the most generous writer I’ve ever met. I can’t imagine how many people wanted a piece of him, how many favors they asked of him. From what I saw, no matter how busy or sick he was, he said, "Yes."

Though I enjoyed his mysteries, I adored his nonfiction. Seldom Disappointed, his autobiograpy, is a joy. My favorite of all his books is The Great Taos Bank Robbery; it’s filled with marvelous humor and the kind of spare and perfect insight that marks the best of journalism.

In Judaism, when someone dies we say, "May his memory be a blessing."

Tony Hillerman gave — and his memory gives — an example of how to be the best. I mean that in every sense of the word.

I hope that as I grow up in this writing life that I can shine more brightly, give more . . . like Tony did, every day. 

22 thoughts on “When I grow up . . .

  1. pari

    Cait,Thank you for the comment. I know I didn’t really ask any question or invite conversation on this one.

    I suppose I could’ve asked: What kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?

    However, those deeply personal questions often go unanswered in this kind of public forum.

    I can tell from your comment that you went there, though . . .

  2. Tammy Cravit

    Wow, I can sure relate to this line of thinking…part of what got me to seriously commit to the writerly side of my person was waking up one day in October of 2003, right before my 30th birthday, and realizing that I’d been to eighteen funerals in the past two years, either of friends of mine or their family members. (One dear friend of mine lost three grandparents and her father in the span of less than a year). I realized then that life was too short not to be true to who and what you are, and that I wasn’t being true to myself by staying trapped in a career I hated.

    I think that the reason the memory of the dead *is* a blessing in Judaism is partly because of the comfort we get from recalling our loved ones, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think the memory of the dead is a blessing precisely because it inspires us to live more fully, to love with abandon, to chase our dreams more fearlessly.

    What a beautiful eulogy, Pari, for two people who touched so many lives. Yihi’u zichronam liv’racha – may their memories be a blessing to all those who knew them, and an inspiration to those of us who didn’t.

  3. Jake Nantz

    I love the concept of a “blurb slut.” I’d love to be called one someday.

    For years I have always respected guys like Cal Ripken Jr., one of the most famous men in his profession, who would still be outside signing baseballs for kids when every other teammate (even the little known ones) had hit the showers and left the park.

    I always said, if I ever got famous, I would do everything I could to be like that. I have psoriatic arthritis, and it’s bad in my hands. Had it since I was 17. I’d still want to sign every book, blurb every author, help lift up anyone I could.

    I’d say Mr. Hillerman was a great man for that if for nothing else, but everyone knows that he was great in so, so many more ways.

  4. pari

    Tammy,You wrote this so beautifully, I can’t begin to do better:”I think that the reason the memory of the dead *is* a blessing in Judaism is partly because of the comfort we get from recalling our loved ones, but I think there’s more to it than that. I think the memory of the dead is a blessing precisely because it inspires us to live more fully, to love with abandon, to chase our dreams more fearlessly.”

    That is so right on.

    Thank you.

  5. pari

    Jake,A couple of years ago, I was asked for my first blurb. I read the book and just couldn’t figure out how to praise it without believing in it.

    I posted to several listservs with much more experienced authors and read every single response . . .

    and decided NOT to give blurbs freely. That I wanted mine to mean something.

    Now, Tony Hillerman’s name on a book means and meant quite a bit more than mine has yet — SO it IS different.

    But that’s one decision I had to make for myself and my comfort level.

    But I give in many, many other ways.

  6. Tom

    Everything – every little thing – can be a mitzvah if it’s done with an open heart. This means saying “No” as well as saying “Yes.”

    For many reasons, Tony Lives. And you’re not doing too badly yourself, Pari.

  7. pari

    JD,Yep. Maybe sometime we can have a lovefest and talk about the other giants who’ve given us this kind of example . . .

    I know our mystery community is incredibly blessed in this way.

  8. toni mcgee causey

    My dad and I shared Tony Hillerman books when I was in college. It was the first time our reading paths crossed and we both admired the man and the work. Because of Hillerman, I now have fond memories of sharing an experience with my dad that gave us something to talk about, especially during those awkward father / grown daughter early years when I was no longer his “little” girl (though I will get an email after her reads this that I am still his little girl). It’s inspiring to see the man so well remembered.

  9. B.G. Ritts

    My brother was intelligent, inquisitive, well-read, and enjoyed visiting the Southwest. He often traveled to Arizona, New Mexico and Utah — even had a subscription to the Moab Times. After he died, my sister and I were going through his books, several hundred altogether, and except for a couple old, Western paperbacks, the only fiction he owned was over a dozen of Tony Hillerman’s (in addition to some of his non-fiction). In my mind, the man could not have had a better recommendation.

  10. pari

    Wow, BG,That is one major tribute to Hillerman. I’ll be sure to tell his daughter when I see her this week.

    Thank you for sharing it with us.

  11. Fran

    Beauty in the desert.

    Just before we lost Tony, I had a long, lovely phone chat with a friend of mine who had colon cancer. We spoke on Thursday, laughing and reminiscing. She died on Monday.

    Then Tony.

    And you know, somehow it makes me want to come back to New Mexico and walk through the sandstone and yucca, feel the weight of the sun and the grit of the sand. Somehow I won’t think I’ve truly said good-bye to either of them, although I never met Tony, but when you’ve both lived in New Mexico and read his books, there’s an undeniable connection somehow.

    There’s timelessness in the desert, but there’s healing too. I think I need that.

  12. Sandy

    We all have memories of where we were the day that something momentous happened. They become places that center our lives in that event. Well, one of mine involves reading my first Tony Hillerman novel many, many years ago. I was visiting my parents, who were vacationing in Carlsbad, CA. They had recommended a restaurant; and since I was dining alone, I went to a bookstore, saw a paperback with an interesting synopsis, bought it, and began reading it at that restaurant on a hill. I have since read all of Tony Hillerman’s novels and even was fortunate enough to meet him at his first mystery conference. Such a gift of a man.

  13. pari

    Oh, Fran.

    My heart goes out to you. This has been such a difficult time for so many people I know.

    The sun, the sand and the glorious wide blue sky are waiting for you, here.

    All can heal.

  14. pari

    Sandy,What a beautiful comment. You’re right about those moments. I envy you being able to remember the exact instant when you read your first Hillerman.

    I’ve read them all too — a few times — but they’ve become a blur now that I knew the man himself.

    And I didn’t even know him that well.


    Just imagine what those closest to him must feel.


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