Monday, October 2, 2023

A Lifeline in an Unlikely Place

 In 2011, I wanted to be a published author more than anything. One company did send a contract, but they believed my memoir needed to be "toned down."

"Instead of 'damn it, my son died,' we prefer 'dang it.' Does that make sense?" their managing editor asked one day. I sat with his critique for a long time before rejecting their proposal. When we took Zeke off of life support, I felt a lot more than a… "dang" or a "darn."

Another editor said they'd be interested if I could build an audience. At the time, that felt like a Herculean task. I still remember visiting my blog and seeing that I had a follower. I practically glowed with happiness, before realizing I'd accidentally followed myself. It's ironic that I have over 150,000 followers across social media now. Although this number is not impressive to some authors, it's huge compared to where I came from 12 years ago.

Anyway, trying to make connections and reach people, I pulled up Facebook and discovered the site would let users have 5,000 friends. So, I found some authors I adored and sent them requests. Soon some of my heroes actually accepted, and it snowballed until I almost had 5,000 friends—most of them authors and strangers but all of them quite interesting.

"What are you doing?" my brother asked one day.

"Requesting to be friends with Tomie dePaola?"


"He accepted," I said, completely flummoxing my brother.

One of the first people I sent a friend request to intrigued me. He was a friend of a friend, had written comedic books, yet had nothing to tie himself to the outside world. I couldn't see an actual picture of him or a true bio. Nothing. But I figured he had his reasons. And many other accounts were similar, with people only sharing scant details while I posted nearly everything.

A couple of years passed, and in 2013 one of the hardest moments of my life happened: I got divorced. One day, I sat thinking about how nice it would be to have a penpal, someone I could talk with and not be judged. I'd never want to know what they looked like or anything because how cool would it be to know someone—man or woman—for what their soul is? You wouldn't have any preconceived notions. You could just recognize them for who they are at the core. I looked through a newspaper and saw an ad for someone seeking a penpal. Although I didn't respond, part of me wanted to. I just knew I wasn't in a good place to actually be part of something like that. Not yet anyway.

Years passed with so many ups and downs. I got remarried to the perfect man, landed my dream job as a publisher at a newspaper, got a book deal, and even joined a successful band that performed in different states every month. Everything seemed almost… miraculous until it started hurting to walk—and doctors diagnosed me with terminal cancer. It's like when you give your dog a steak dinner the day before you put him down. Yeah… That's what it felt like to me.

I really needed someone to talk with, but the counselors at the hospital didn't understand and I worried about burdening my family.

One day, when I felt at my very worst, I curled into a ball on my bed and cried. With everything in me, I wished God would send some type of lifeline. Where was that person who needed a penpal now? How great would it be to mail letters to a stranger, just to get my feelings out? That same day, I received a message on Facebook. "If I could trade places with you, I would." I clicked on the account and realized it was the comedic writer who shared nothing that could connect themselves to the outside world. I responded, and the conversation continued every single week for almost two years. Now, my whole family knows about this person. We've read their books and discussed their philosophical ideas together.

I'm honestly unsure how exactly this happened, but I found my penpal, some type of angel who reached out from the darkness and selflessly listened as I've shared my fears and triumphs with having a terminal illness. At first, it felt like sending messages into a void, but then my family and I really began knowing this person for the quality of their soul.

As I messaged them today, explaining how I really feel about my diagnosis, tears filled my eyes. If doctors are right, this is what I'll die from, but I still consider myself the luckiest person in the world. I have the most incredible family and friends—even a penpal I can reach out to and know they'll respond with kindness because their soul shines. Isn't it surreal how many miracles dot the path of life, even when we're going through the most difficult of hardships.

It really is true that the future doesn't always hold what we hope for; instead, it offers experiences that can help us grow.

No comments:

Post a Comment