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After the First Death…….

On March 4th we lost Pat Conroy, and on that day the world became a bit duller, a bit less expressive. I thought he’d have more time. All his life Pat seemed to bear the harshest, most unreasonable blows, and so when he disclosed his cancer in February it was easy to assume that he would last a few more rounds, that no disease, no matter how vicious, would be able to take down a Conroy in such short order. But no one gets out of here alive, and in the end Pat Conroy’s insightful and intuitive mind, resilient soul and lyrical pen went silent.

I can’t count the number of times I’ve picked up one of his works and just read randomly, filling myself with the flowing beauty of his language and the deep, deep passion of the stories he told. There’s little distinction between his fiction and his nonfiction. Prince of Tides and Beach Music casts as much truth as My Losing Season and the breathtaking The Death of Santini, both of which were drawn from heartache and loss. One of the most important books I have ever touched, one that changed the way I look at life and letters and my own need to navigate the two, is My Reading Life, Pat’s narrative of his journey to a literary career. A small book, certainly by Pat’s standards, and not very complex, except as it peels away the layers of experience and encounters and personalities that contribute to a self-realization most of us can only imagine, and few can grasp.

The words of a great writer can penetrate into the dark, unseen places. They shine lights of awareness, and in that light, we see our own purpose, our own souls. We come to understand more clearly the meaning of the splendid panoplies of this life – the love of it, the excitement and wonder of it, its energy, its vibrancy and its pain. Great writing is more than merely words. The best writing is meditation. It is celebration and exaltation of the human spirit, in all its glory and all its grime. The best writing is a prayer sent to our hidden nature.

Pat Conroy’s soul flies now to wherever it is that souls go when we pass. I have little doubt that it will soar and dive and dip in a playful, joyous freedom. And those left behind enter him into a Pantheon of the great writers who laid bare their own hearts, their own minds, and, in so doing, lent purpose to those fortunate enough to embrace their precious words.

After the first death, there is no other

- Dylan Thomas


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