On Monday my close friend Jessica, who I have mentioned here before as half of my “alpha reader” duo, lost her mother to a sudden and completely unexpected death. She was so shaken by the chaos of the unfolding event that I drove the hour long trip to her family home with her as a grateful passenger because she was in no shape to drive herself. I did this without hesitation and I won’t forget the shock and grief I witnessed as my friend was given the news in the embrace of her father’s arms.
She is just starting to pick up the pieces while her friends try to help her as best as we can. It could be a long process of assimilating the trauma; having lost a brother and my own mom within the past seven years, and I understand how hard that could potentially be.
My encounter with this living, real tragedy left me humble and reminds me of the fragile vulnerability of our human existence. I know that most of my followers here are also writers of dramatic fiction like I am. We write characters that can save the world in a sentence and live with tragic back stories outlined in a paragraph or two. Yet in real life we are probably not at all like the heroic characters we create… I certainly couldn’t make this situation better with some sort of epic feat even if I were capable of such things.
All I could really do was be there: I provided a ride to her family. I carried bags. I gave some hugs and I listened. I listened a lot. Essentially, I was just present… Present as my friend’s world collapsed around her. Giving her my empathy was the best that I could manage, and it made me feel powerless.
Hours later, that feeling of powerlessness still haunted me as I restlessly tried to determine if there was anything else I could have done, or done better. After a while I remembered a line of dialog from The Dark Knight Rises that reminded me of a truth which ended my unease. It was this: “A hero can be anyone. Even a man doing something as simple and reassuring as putting a coat around a young boy’s shoulders to let him know that the world hadn’t ended.”
Metaphorically, I too had been draping a coat around my friend’s shoulders, and I realized that sometimes that’s the best, the only, thing you can do.
I draw personal inspiration from mythic, heroic storytelling. When it is done right, it distills the complexities of reality into a shadowplay of essences. It creates things that we can all relate to on an emotional level, then project over our own lives to see the same patterns in the subtle and nuanced forms they usually take in the real world. That was what I did with two sentences from a Batman movie the other night… And it’s a reason why I write heroic fantasy.