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.
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For a week, I’ve been reading accounts from published and unpublished writers, from readers, about how he encouraged them to keep going, how he made everyone feel like an equal.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.