My life has come full circle in the past five years, and it’s appropriate that I end this period of life where I began it—on Nantucket. My first visit as a widow was in August 2013—four days at the end of a small-ship cruise along the coast of Maine.
I originally planned to spend a week, but I was afraid to be completely alone for so long on this remote island thirty miles out in the Atlantic. I decided that four days would be bearable. Four years and four months after Lev’s death, as I walked the cobblestone streets of Nantucket, I finally found joy that lasted more than a moment. I discovered a serene, tranquil beauty and peace that caused my spirit to soar and led me to reevaluate and ultimately repurpose my life.
Walking down Main Street toward Straight Wharf one sunny day, I was marveling at my happiness. Suddenly, I thought, “I should write a book to help other widows find joy!” Looking back at that moment, I realize what an insane idea that was—I was 72 years old and unpublished. I was trained as a newspaper reporter, to report facts in the short form. The height of my youthful ambition was to be the first female editorial writer at the New York Times. Never ever did I dream of writing in the long form, certainly not a book and certainly not about myself.
I knew that writing required solitude, and I did not know if I was ready to spend time alone with my memories. I spent that next year evaluating my life and deciding my priorities before I returned to this tranquil island—to this sanctuary—to see if I had the discipline to write. If I could not write every day in this place so far removed from all my responsibilities and cares, then I could not write. If I could not spend extensive time alone in reflection and contemplation, then I could not write.
By spring 2014 I was planning the details of my upcoming visit and writing the outline of my book. The Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians—where I always find comfort and hope in tough times—contains four chapters. I carved each into seven sections that spoke to me. For an hour each morning, I meditated on Philippians, a section a day for 28 days. Next, I wrote in longhand on notebook paper whatever experiences I recalled, whatever insights I had that seemed to illustrate the passage. Those stream-of-consciousness notes—those vignettes of death and grief—formed the basis of my first draft of what I would eventually name Reclaiming Joy: A Primer for Widows.
I returned to Nantucket for 18 days that August, where I set up office space in a tranquil room facing the harbor at the White Elephant Hotel. Each morning I ordered room service, hung the do-not-disturb sign on my door and wrote for three hours. At the end of my stay, I had a 30,000-word first draft. I was finally able to write about a peace that leads to joy because I found that peace on Nantucket.
In the years since, I have moved from tourist to summer resident, living on the edge of the historic district in the shadow of the steeple of First Congregational Church. The next two summers on the island, I revised my manuscript. Last summer I signed a contract with the Baylor University Press, and this month I will make final corrections in the page proof, while working with the Press and the publicist on promoting and marketing Reclaiming Joy, which will be released September 15. It’s been a long journey from grief to joy, as well as from inspiration to published book. One more step to go—next June I hope to be in the local authors’ tent at the 2019 Nantucket Book Festival and on the shelf at Mitchell’s Book Corner on Main Street.
* * *
The Latest News
Reclaiming Joy is available for preorder at the Baylor University Press, Amazon and Barnes & Noble. You can find links here, as well as additional information about my book, on my redesigned website. I hope you will take time to visit the other pages you see listed across the top of this page.
Baylor University Libraries will host a major book launch event for me at 3:30 p.m., Friday, September 14, at Moody Library 104. I will speak briefly and sign books afterwards. This is the day before the Baylor-Duke football game, so I hope to see many of you.
Corpus Christi Libraries will host a book launch event with a similar format from 3 to 5 p.m. Friday, September 28, at Neyland (Parkdale) Library. La Retama Club is cohost.
Hanley-Wood is planning a party and book signing from 4 to 6 p.m., Thursday, October 4, at their Corpus Christi shop.
“Have books, will travel” will be my slogan this coming year; and I welcome opportunities to speak at churches, libraries, book clubs and the like. If it’s a day’s drive from Corpus Christi or Dallas or I can get there on Southwest or American without too many transfers, I’d love to come.
This week’s blog was adapted from my forthcoming memoir, Reclaiming Joy.
Photos: Top, Nantucket waterfront at sunset; middle, Main Street, where I was first inspired to write; bottom, Centre Street, the center of my life on Nantucket—First Congregational Church and the 1790 parsonage porch, site of much of my spiritual and social life, and my summer home, one of a pair of 1838 Greek Revival houses.