How can it be that our conversations about The Water is Wide, now leaves our hearts, empty and broken?
I read a text received before the crack of dawn from a friend, a fine writer who refuses to get out of her damn way and share her words with paper and pen. Pat Conroy is dead.
After spending a month immersed in reading and researching Conroy for our discussions, I felt a stabbing pain of personal grief that I don't deserve, but, dammit, I feel it anyway because that's what writers end up doing to us.
They make their personal laments our private matters. The magic of good writing. We get to own it. We've invested our time, emotion and imagination into the pages of another's soul. It's a fair deal. Writers have no choice but to write, maybe a narcissistic endeavor, like standing in a mirror, snarling, holding up your pen in perfect stabbing stance. But, like an addict, the need prevails and voila, the written word. If a reader chooses to make the deal and crack open that book, then hell yes, the story becomes their own.
You better believe I feel losing Pat Conroy is personal. It's damn personal. Back in 2007, he said in a letter to the editor in The Charleston Gazette that "people cuss in his books," and that he cusses, too.
And there it stands. The essence of writer and reader. He writes. We read. The grief is therefore real and raw this morning as the fog lifts off of Julington Creek, revealing another day of ospreys boasting and the thrushes singing their morning cantatas. Pat is gone, but this world of the Southern experience, that he captured and penned, is still here.
And leave it to Conroy to exit on the one date that stands alone in our Gregorian calendar as a complete sentence.
More ironic that my refusing stubborn dear friend, who won't write, who won't make that risky deal between reader and writer, is the first to tell me of Pat's denoument. I think it's sign, perhaps a metaphor riffing on "man plans and god laughs." How much more cajoling will it take to convince my friend to just write?