Fan Mail Wednesday #163 (from “the oldest teenager”)

Here’s one . . .

Hi!  I work in a library, and I JUST finished “Before You Go” – I realize you may be hoping for actual young adult readers instead of one who is, ummm, still emotionally at the teen level, but I have to tell you I thought the book was very, very good.  It was both poetic and philosophical, yet fast-moving and interesting; loved all the little touches and references to song lyrics.  I also have to say, having already lost both my parents, the book made me cry… you did a great job describing grief.  I also appreciated, as an agnostic (a militant one – “I don’t know and you don’t either!”, as the joke goes), the difficulty but truthfulness of living with doubt, versus the calming yet false sense of religious certainty — though still keeping oneself open to light, love, and growth. I hope one of these days I’ll write as well, although I don’t have children and won’t be able to write well about ‘modern youth’ — and back when I was a youth, I wasn’t modern for the times either :)

Anyway, I don’t do a good job of my wish to tell authors “good job!” and I’m wanting to change that, so here I am – “good job!”

Bibi
Our Library’s “oldest teenager”

My reply:

Bibi,

Thanks for that great note. I appreciate your resolution to tell authors, “Good job!” It’s something I don’t do enough of, either. Lately I’ve been on fire reading books, thrilled from one book to the next, excited and energized. But do I send a nice note like Bibi, saying “Good job”?

No, I don’t. I do not. But I sure am glad I got one from you.

I’m glad you picked up on the spiritual questions in the book. As a kid, raised Catholic, I did so much of that kind of thinking, questioning, wondering. I tried to write this book as honestly as I could, full of doubt, and yet — as you said so eloquently — open to light, love, and growth. I’m glad that part shined through, to you at least.

My oldest son, age 19, is a two-time cancer survivor. He was diagnosed with leukemia at 26 months. I remember how I felt when some people would say to me, “He’ll be fine, I just know it.” Empty assurances, platitudes. As if they knew anything. At times I  wanted to punch those well-meaning people right in the nose. Grab them by the shoulders, shake them hard, and say, “You don‘t know. No one does. We don’t know. That’s the deal here. It’s the essence of this experience, he could die, he could live, we don’t know. And you can’t take that away from me or my family. We have to live with that unknowing. Which, to me, is everything. Where do you go from there? How do you live a good life on this earth, here, today?

Thanks for writing,

JP

Here’s a clip I like of Richard Feynman, sharing his thoughts on the subject.

“You see, I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong.”

You need to a flashplayer enabled browser to view this YouTube video

One comment

  1. Liz S. says:

    I’m so glad to see these comments about BEFORE YOU GO. So many reviewers have missed the soul of this novel. Perhaps one has to have been through terrible loss to relate? I’d like to think that’s not the case — good fiction is a journey to places unknown. Anyway, terrific letter and response.

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