Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Ed Jackson

The Beve's favorite character in my novel was murdered by the delete button almost a dozen drafts ago. He was a retired presbyterian pastor who grew up out in the rural community where my story takes place. I wrote everything I've ever wanted in a pastor--deep thoughtfulness, an ability to love, give hope, to listen and not judge. I had him walk into the worst of moments--a family struggling with a father's suicide--and leave that family grace and peace and no solid answers that we could see through with dime store glasses. This was Ed Jackson. Later on, Ed became the best counselor anyone has ever been. He could sit on a front porch and wait out a 13-year-old girl, wait for her to speak, and then quietly help her take the deep, piercing thorn from her heart.
Anyway, ol' Ed got chopped from my story in one of the earliest touches of my editor's hand. And, in some ways, the Beve has never gotten over it. I wonder if it's at all telling that the person Beve likes the most in OA hasn't even been present for most of its incarnations?...Actually, I think the Beve has spent his life looking for a pastor just like Ed. But then, haven't we all? I know I have.

This morning I'm thinking about Ed because in my latest (probably last) revision, it looks like my ideal friends, whose names are Adrianna and Kellen, are facing the delete button as well. They are the kinds of friends I imagine being, the kind who sit with a person in sacramental silence when that's what is needed, who push hard when that's what is called for, whose foibles and quirks make them endearing. I like them, I want to know them, just like I wanted Ed Jackson to be my pastor. And now, they're on the verge of disappearing. Phoof...just like that. Well, not exactly just like that. With sweat, and agonizing tears, and walking holes in my carpet, but, from a reader's point of view, gone as completely as if they'd never existed.

Murdering our babies--that's what Hemingway called revision. I've lived this a long time now. I know it. The Beve still grieves Ed, but I don't even visit his grave anymore. And the same will be true of Adrianna and Kellen. I know that. It's just today when my fingers hover over that button that it's hard--though I can't quite make a case to argue, even to myself.

Interesting thing happened to me, though. A few months ago, we were talking with some friends at dinner. We'd talked about my brother who died in January, my preaching at his memorial service, how hard that was, and how I'd ended up saying I didn't have all the answers, but what I did know was that God loved him... Later, as the dinner wound around--you know how conversations flow with food and beverages, we were talking about my book (of course, eventually, it always comes up) and Beve mentioned Ed Jackson. Our friends asked about him so I began to quote some of his lines, and as I did, I stopped mid-sentence. What I had said--without thought--at my brother's memorial service, were the words I'd written for Ed years ago, then deleted from the pages a few years later. It was a stunning revelation. "Why, you're Ed Jackson," the Beve said. Maybe. Maybe I'm writing my hopes of my own best self. I'm not as good as Ed by a long shot. But I'd like to be. By God--and I say that purposely, as in, by His Holy Spirit--I shall be.

Who do you dream of being? Sometimes (well, more often than you can imagine) people suggest to me that I write about their families/write their stories. And I always say to them, "Only you can write your own story." Write it. Write who you dream of being, and grow into her. Or him. It's a way of getting there, I think. Write your life and see.

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