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Pen Pals

A moment of personal privilege, if I may:

It is told that when the Irish poet Seamus Heaney enrolled his children in a new school and was asked by the admissions officer, “What is your occupation?”, he responded, “I write a little.” Hearing that story about the man awarded the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature "for works of lyrical beauty and ethical depth, which exalt everyday miracles and the living past", I could do nothing but nod my head in agreement.

Writers are notoriously insecure. We sit down (and only after slaying the mighty dragons of procrastination and ennui) to address the blank page with trepidation, frustration, panic, or all three, certain that this day, this hour will be the moment when the words finally dry up. We accept any kind words, any compliments about what we have written with tight smiles and brief nods, knowing deep within us that we are frauds. We never really believe that we are worthy of the title.

That said, every now and then, someone not a friend or a relative or a friend of a relative, shows up to make me think that I am not a complete charlatan.

One of those people was Pat Spurgeon.

Because of my association with the family of Erk Russell, I knew who he was, but he and I had never met when, two years ago to the day as I write this, I received a Facebook message from him expressing his appreciation for my column. I believe I actually put my hand to my throat as I took in a deep breath.

That this brilliant scholar (I know for a fact that he once used the Sword of Damocles as a metaphor in describing a team that knew it was in for a trouncing.) not only read my offerings, but took the time to let me know, was as good as having received an anointing of some special grace.

I responded, of course, which led to a very occasional exchange between the two of us, each time prompted by his generosity of spirit in speaking about what he had read in the words I’d managed to string together. He described one of my columns as having “the fragile beauty of a spider’s web.” I think I may have wept.

I was out of town last week when I learned that Dr. Spurgeon had died.. I’d been thinking of him just a few days before and, regrettably, had not sent him a message, the victim yet again of insecurity. What made me think that our friendship (and I did, still do, think of it that way) gave me permission to initiate a conversation?

I regret, of course, not having done that. Not having taken the initiative to say, once again, what his own words had prompted in my heart. To say that those words had helped me learn to call myself a writer.

Words are tender things. They are also powerful. Pat Spurgeon knew that. And he used that knowledge well.

Godspeed, Dr. Spurgeon. And tell Erk I said hello.

Copyright 2022

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