I am a shy person.
I have gotten a bit better about reaching out to others since David’s cancer. Some good came out of something bad; our revitalized relationship and my new-found tendency to connect with others are good things.
I’d met her several years ago, and liked her immediately. We had things in common: we both homeschooled, we both loved babies, and we were both Catholic.
Only she was more Catholic than me: more reverent, more pious, more faithful, she only wore dresses and she had two children headed into religious life. She was just…more Catholic. Maybe even a bit radical in her faith. But after our visits I would ponder on what she had that I didn’t. I secretly yearned for some of whatever it was, and wondered how she got it. And despite all we had in common, I thought there was still a chasm of differences between us that would make her not want to have someone like me as a friend.
Then God and circumstances threw us together occasionally and one day she asked if she could read the manuscript of my cancer book. I didn’t know how to say no and I was thinking it might never be published anyway, so I decided why not, and let her download it onto a disc. I saw her in a public situation not too long ago and she didn’t say anything about the book and I decided the reference to an intimate moment between my husband and myself had probably been too much for her delicate sensibilities, so I ended up just embarrassed that I had shared it with her.
Then last night she called and asked if we could meet for coffee this morning. I thought she might want to discuss something about homeschooling, or maybe wanted me to join a pyramid sales scheme, or something similar. (David and I once had a couple invite us out for lunch only to spring tapes and an aggressive sales pitch on us the minute we got comfortable in our chairs)
Instead, when she and I sat down she hesitantly pulled out a notebook.
(oh, no, she really is going to try to get me to buy into something)
“I hope you don’t mind. I write things down so that I can keep my thoughts straight and not go off on a tangent.”
I laughed and asked her if she wanted to read to me. I instantly regretted the laugh as that is exactly what she wanted to do.
And then she started reading; about how we had met and how each of those meetings meant something to her. How she always wanted to be my friend but never felt she could be among my circle of friends, and that someone had told her that she would never be my friend, that I had high standards for my friends. (I felt a lump forming in my throat. If only she knew~ I don’t have a circle of friends! I have friends, but certainly not in abundance, and no circle, and the only standard being that they have to be decent people and like me and my family) She continued reading about how she wishes she had been more supportive during David’s bout with cancer, but they were going through a very difficult time themselves during that time.
And then she thanked me.
I was astounded. What was she thanking me for? I hadn’t been a friend to her. I hadn’t invited her and her children to our home or called her on the phone or reached out to her in any way at all.
“I read your book, obviously,” she said, though the object of our conversation hadn’t been obvious to me at all.
She was thanking me for my book! She told me reading it had made her look at her relationships and realize she wanted to enjoy them now and not have regrets later. She wanted to appreciate her husband while she had him.
I should have been thanking her.
Not only did she remind me that shyness can appear as aloofness, she made me remember why I had written the book in the first place.
The book I have pretty much abandoned as I have worked on my new book.
The book that one agent told me she never, ever, wanted me to mention as she shopped around for a publisher for my other book, or she would not sign with me.
“I don’t want you talking about your little book while I sell your big book,” is how she put it.
Oh, yeah, that book.
I should be glad I’m not working with that agent. For despite the fact that she might be right about the marketability of my cancer memoir, there was a reason I wrote it. And that reason sat right in front of me this morning. An otherwise reticent woman overcame her own shyness and sat in front of me and opened up her heart about what my friendship would mean to her and what reading the story about this particular period of our journey through cancer did for her in her own relationships.
I wrote the book, not for money, not for fame, but to help others, especially those who have just been diagnosed with cancer or are going through treatment for cancer.
But it isn’t just about cancer. In fact, a reader will come away from the book believing they just read a story about marriage and relationships.
I don’t know if my cancer memoir will ever see the light of day in the world of publishing. And it is truly okay with me if it doesn’t. I am willing to keep pulling essays from it for anthologies and contests. I realize publishing is a business and from a business standpoint, that book would probably not be a blockbuster hit. What I am working on now has more of a potential for that.
But that agent was wrong about one thing. The cancer memoir is not a “little book.” Little books don’t change lives. My new friend taught me that.