Valentine’s Day is round the corner. So much love and chocolate heart-shapes and flowers and smooshy stuff at every turn. However, smooshy stuff is not my thang, y’all. I want to talk about the dark-dancing romance of: death-eath-eath-eath-eath . . . .
The day before I was to turn in Tender Graces, I drove through our Smokies listening to a Celtic group siren out the song of my mountains, and a scene burned into my brain of Virginia Kate riding Fionadala up the mountainside, hair and mane and tail flying—all a blur of upward movement and thundering sound. And in Virginia Kate’s pack lay Momma’s ashes. At the ridgetop she opened the urn, and as she twirled-twirled-twirled, boned ash littered the air and then at last (un)rested on the mountainside, on Virginia Kate, on Fionadala. I quickly added the scene at the oh-so-very last minute as a short dreamy imagery-prologue and sent the final manuscript off to my editor—no regrets.
That’s when I knew I wanted to be cremated. My decision solidified as I ran my hand through my beloved companion dog’s ashes—oh how the lighter specks sparkled in the sunlight, the heavier pieces final-falling to the ground. And then my dear father—I poured a portion of his three million pieces plus two in a favorite place. How his ashes glowed so puri-fired white! It is a reverential experience to release a beloved one’s ashes, later finding dusty remnants in a fingernail, a crevice of the skin, dusted across the hair of an arm. You find it difficult to wash off their essence, until you recognize that it will be one more journey for them, down down down, water finding water finding water to the sea.
Thing is, if you burn yourself to a boned-ash crisp, where’s your tombstone? Who will ever know you were an Earth creature, and know what you were all about? Where is your tangible writer’s legacy? Architects leave behind structures; artists leave behind works of art; actors leave behind movies and television; dead people leave behind tombstones.
If you have no stone marker in a graveyard, how will anyone stroll past your chiseled remains and find curiosity in its inscription? Instead, here lies Kat, and here, and there, there-there-here-there-there-here. How unsettling to me to feel that the very dreams for which I hoped and desired would be forever lost to time.
Then I had an epiphany. Folks, our books are our tombstones, our legacy if you will, and I will, thank you very much. Our published works rise up out of the dirt and tell future generations who we were, what we loved, who we loved. We are pantomimed by our characters. Scorched into the brains of our readers (or so we do hope!).
There is no way to know how long our books will be sold once we die, or for that matter while we are alive, but somewhere, someone will have our words tucked into their bookcase, or in an e-reader, or to be stumbled upon at a garage sale, here, there, here-there-here.
I am not too humble to admit that this gives me joy and comfort. To know something of me will live on. Yes, yes, yes, I understand that I will live on through my son, and my granddaughter, and in the memories my friends and family have of me, through Facebook posts, with photographs. But I wanted the equivalent of a stranger walking through a gravesite and reading my tombstone: “She gave life all she had. And she wrote some pretty danged good books. She was fearless, and a kickass kind of woman. She adored her readers, and they adored her back. She never found true love—she loved her words and language most of all, even when at the sacrifice.”
And with our words, our books, our love, our life, our sacrifice, our joy and our pain, every time a reader turns the page and reads, something of us remains—we do not disappear.
Do you want to leave something of yourself behind that serves as your writer’s legacy, your writer’s tombstone? And what does your tombstone say about you? Or are you content to disappear forever and ever and ever-er-er-er-er-er-er?