The other night, I started reading Pat Conroy’s Death of Santini. His words flow like the tidal creeks in the marshes of the low country, in seemingly random directions but ultimately leading to a larger, more important body of water.
I came across a passage so powerful and so beautiful, I had to stop reading. It literally moved me to tears. I reread it several times before closing the book and turning out the light. It was absolute perfection. I would never be able to write like that.
As I lay there in the dark, I resolved to set down my pen and never write another word, knowing I was incapable of the majesty of his words. As a writer, I was a fraud, not deserving of the title. My work suddenly seemed cheap and I was glad to be cloaked in darkness. Unable to sleep, I berated myself for my amateurish attempts to put down words worthy of reading. After a while, my vision started to clear and I could hear the voice of Conroy.
If every writer who could not measure up to the masters lay down their pen, the libraries would be desolate places with empty shelves. Countless versions of young Darryl’s would not be able to read and ride the wings of authors to other worlds. It dawned on me that there are very few writers who qualify for admission into the same chamber as Conroy, just as there are few musicians who will ever achieve the greatness of a Beethoven. What a sad world it would be if all artists felt the same way. I made up my mind that I would take his words as a challenge; a challenge to do better.
I’ll not repeat the passage. To do so would be a sacrilege. His words deserve to be read in the context of his work. I will say, to readers and writers alike, that one passage alone is worth the price of the book. I hope you’ll read it.