I have been a member and contributor on the Young Widow Bulletin Board since a few months after Don passed away. It has been a lifeline, as well as an opportunity to communicate with and meet other widows and widowers who share the same journey. It is through this venue I have met and developed friendships with some amazing individuals. Recently, a member of the bulletin board contacted me regarding a thread to which I had contributed. One that she found particularly interesting. Seems she is writing an article for a well-known weekly publication on the topic and wanted to interview me for the article.
Along with the email, she sent a link to her web site to authenticate her interest.
( http://www.jackiemitchard.com/index2.htm ). With a click of my mouse, her web site came up and I immediately recognized her, Jacquelyn Mitchard, author of Deep End of the Ocean, Oprah’s first “Book Club Book”. I was excited and a bit timid (I know, hard to believe) that this famous author would be interested in anything I had to say. Jacquelyn and I began communicating via email a couple times a day for several weeks. We’d share tidbits about family, “the widow experience”, and life in general. We often would send one or two line blurbs, but at other times it would take paragraphs to express our thoughts. I have to say that I felt a connection with her right away.
Last week I received an email from Jackie stating that she was going to be in Bloomington with her son (he was auditioning for musical theatre at Illinois Wesleyan) and wanted to know if we could get together for lunch. I couldn’t have been more excited to meet someone. Not only to bask in her literary knowledge, but also to meet, in person, this new friend I had made. I anxiously responded that I would love to meet with her whenever she was available.
While sitting in Biaggi’s with a very special friend awaiting Jackie’s entrance, I suddenly realized that I wasn’t even nervous—excited, but not nervous. When she walked into the restaurant her presence was sensed in the room—she had a strong, confident persona. I gave her a hug and she sat down. I introduced her to my friend, and we began to talk right away. It was a comfortable exchange. We spoke freely about our history and life story. She was a widow at a young age, so conversation logically turned in that direction. There we sat, the three of us with this shared experience of loss and an instant bond was created. It still amazes me how collective life experiences create immediate friendships.
We listened as Jackie shared her life journey from widowhood to remarriage; how she had survived as a single parent and successfully blended and created her current family (seven children—wow!!). She was honest about the difficulties, struggles and ultimate triumphs of creating her “chapter two”.
We discussed her life as a writer. I was interested in how she researched books, how long it took to write, and in her writing processes. Jackie shared the plot of her next book due out this summer and of the young adult book to be released at the end of this month. She brought copies of her new book, Cage of Stars and a copy of Deep End of the Ocean, to autograph for me. They will be books I will treasure. As we sat enjoying each other's company, it seemed like we were simply old friends meeting to “catch up”.
Jackie spoke of the cheerleader competition that was being held at the college where her son was auditioning. She told of the girls sitting in the front of the building speaking, as teenagers do—about whatever it is teenagers converse about. As she relayed the girls’ conversation to us, it was as if we were listening to them ourselves. It is this writer’s eye that makes Jacquelyn’s writing resonate. She sees the world through the eyes of a writer. Conversations and life activities surround us on a daily basis. We pay little attention to them, yet to a writer each incident is significant---an opportunity for expression. I made a mental note to share this with my students.
Was this a chance connection with a famous author? I don’t think so. I do believe Jacquelyn Mitchard was one of those brought into my life to dance with me (see blog entry: http://mfisteach.blogspot.com/2006/08/lord-of-dance.html ) and I with her; partners on a journey of shared experiences, yet living diverse lives. I am thankful for those who continually are symbols of hope; those who exemplify that through pain, joy can be found—Jacquelyn Mitchard is one such beacon.