writing is everywhere. You can find it without even looking. But you
have to go out of your way for good writing. You have to seek it out,
and absorb it, and remember it, immerse yourself in it, so you'll know
the difference. And so when you're the one doing the writing you'll know
when it's going wrong.
Today is the anniversary of the beginning of the end of Jesse's life. Every year since I learned what he did, I've felt torn between pride and horror at that pride, that he went down there to volunteer. That I raised a child who had the moral courage to do that, and that my teaching him this concept ultimately cost him his life.
I don't know how many of his friends realize why he died, what the cause was. You knew a hero. You knew he was special, that he goaded you to do more, do better, change the world for those who couldn't. I've heard some of your stories, and I am so proud of each of you for what you do. Tears well in my eyes as I type this and think of how you are risking your lives, or devoting your time to enlightening the next generation, each in your own way leaping forward into a career where you know you can do good for others. A little bit of Jesse I know follows with you.
9-11 gave him the leukemia that killed him. But it gave him time that other victims didn't have. And he used that time-- he lived -- as hard as could. As if he knew the clock was ticking. I am grateful to all of you who were part of that whirlwind of full-on living. The trip to Europe, the sky dive, the push through college to law school. The push toward knowledge, understanding, and greater compassion. The push to teach that zest for knowledge and exchange of ideas to kids a few years younger than him. And the wise ass humor he sought in every aspect of life. He could be a pill I know. He could be rough. He had a temper he was learning to channel in better ways.
It breaks my heart to know who he might be now, at 29. How proud we all would be of him. What risks he would be taking for someone else's sake. What ideas he would have inspired us with. And how we'd be laughing when he turned things on their heads so we could shake the humor out of it.
I am certain that one thing he would be doing is pushing awareness of the relationship between acute leukemia and 9-11. Warning the volunteers and residents of the signs and symptoms, so they will know. I wonder sometimes, if Martin Tallman's move to Sloan Kettering was just a little inspired by Jesse. The man who knew all there is to know about APL is here now, that means that lives will be saved, where before, when Jesse was there, the ignorance was so deep that Sloan Kettering refused to admit him early, till Tallman called and told them he would die within a week.
Because of this, his death was not in vain. His life certainly never was.
The first fossil I ever found on my own was a whole trilobite, curled up in a ball like a potato bug about the size of the tip of my thumb. I'd never seen such a complete little specimen in my life. It was resting on a bed of limestone on a hillside park in Ohio, probably knocked loose by the recent rain. I picked it up and showed it to my biology teacher, who asked if I'd mind him displaying it in the park's museum. I was thrilled. I knew my dad would love to see it, so I put it in a cup and stuck it in the back of the car. At some point after I got home, I went back to the car to get it to show him, and it was gone. When I found him and asked him if he'd seen it, he was mad at me for leaving trash in the back seat. He said he chucked it in the grass and threw the cup away.
I've gone back and read my old novel, looking for what to keep. Even though it's what got me into grad school, it doesn't feel as good as it did. It seems slower, more talky, less active than I remember. I read scenes and wonder why I felt the need to include them. They cover the conversations and relationships among the characters, but they seem pointless, the kind of thing people write when they're much younger, I suppose.
I have a method when I write, that includes retyping a piece. It helps me to see where it slows down. If I get bored typing it, readers will probably get bored reading it. And so it appears I will be rewriting a great deal if I want to keep this novel. Not sure I do. So much has changed. The town it was set in was wiped away by a hurricane. The people in it seem distant, characters I once had dreams about and felt were real in some recognizable way.
I feel like I've forgotten how to write characters. Not sketches of characters, the characters themselves. Personalities. Maybe I'll use it as an exercise. Or maybe I'll write about my actual life again. You learn so much about human nature online. One thing's for sure, you won't get bored reading it.
Don't be sad about how your body looks, worry whether you're still pretty, wonder where your youth went. Stop holding yourself up to society's standards, and you'll find yourself happier with who you are. Look at yourself through your children's eyes and you'll never feel low about yourself again. To them you are a goddess, you are the most beautiful woman in the world, your every mood is of prime importance to them; they watch and learn everything from you, including how to feel about themselves and about how they look. So for their sakes, learn to look at yourself as you would have them look at themselves.
On February 8 2007 my 22 year old son Jesse died after a ten day coma, due to complications from APL leukemia. He and his younger brother had just lost their dad in January 2003, just a few months after Jesse had started college. Jesse's first round with leukemia was in July-August 2004. He recovered in time to push himself through University of Michigan on time, with good grades, chemo and all. This time, we weren't so lucky. Jesse, his brother and I have always used humor to fight fear and grief.