“For several days after my book was published I carried it about in my pocket, and took surreptitious peeps at it to make sure the ink had not faded.”
- JM Barrie
A writer’s life is filled with quiet moments of all sorts, mainly of the reading, thinking-while-washing-the-dishes, and writing variety. Very occasionally, there are Big Quiet Moments. I’ve had a few of them this past year, including this one andthis one. Then there was this one, which, in the end, wasn’t very quiet at all (just ask my son, who was asleep at the time). But it was Big.
One of my most memorable Big Quiet Moments ever had to do with finding my great-grandmother’s gravestone. Some years ago I was given vague co-ordinates to her stone, recalled sixty-five years after her death by my father, who’d been a young boy at the time of her funeral. My family and I set off one crisp fall day to find her. We tramped up and down the rows of gravestones, shuffling through fallen leaves and peering at the engravings – beautiful old names, the likes of which you don’t hear in daycares or university classes any more. My mind travelled to possible stories behind the engravings, but only so far, as I had a great-grandmother to find.
I didn’t find her. And we had only covered a small corner of the cemetery.
A few months later I tried again, and again I didn’t succeed. This went on for a couple of years, and every time I came away discouraged.
Then one day came through the mail slot documentation of my great-grandmother’s co-ordinates. I raced off to the cemetery with my family, and we closed in on an area at the opposite end from where we’d started. Each of us took a row, the children older and more curious, and both now able to read. I walked alongside the gravestones, reading carefully. Nothing. I passed a tree, then another. More gravestones. Still nothing but unfamiliar names.
She wasn’t there. And then she was.
I breathed deeply of her name, this woman who I had never met, but who was in large part responsible for my existence and my children’s, and had lived a difficult and rich life on three continents during a turbulent time in history. Leaves rustled in nearby trees as I sank to my knees and traced her name with my fingers. A bird might have been singing. My family gathered around me and we shared this Big Quiet Moment with the birds and the leaves as our fanfare.
Last week a box arrived at the Business Guy’s office. I was summoned and handed something to slice through the packing tape. When I opened the box and lifted away the protective paper and saw the copies of Harbour View lying there, waiting to be read, I think a cheer went up in the office.
But as I stared into the box, all I heard was the birds and the leaves.