Miracles, signs and wonders abound, y’all.

About a year ago, my friend Gam Foster asked me to give a talk about writing to a group of school teachers . . . many of whom teach writing to kids. I know nothing about teaching writing to kids – or adults, for that matter – but I love Gam, so I agreed to do it. (Why not? It was a year away!) Well, now the time is upon me, and I still know nothing about teaching writing, but Gam has informed me that I don’t really need to. My talk has been billed “My Writing Life” – their title, not mine – and nobody expects me to be an expert on teaching. What they may expect me to be is an expert on “my writing life,” which, until now, also seemed problematic . . .

But here’s the “miracles, signs and wonders” part. This morning I was out walking the trail, thinking about this talk I have to prepare, and how much I love that they’re calling it “My Writing Life” – an intentional allusion (I assume?) to Pat Conroy’s book “My Reading Life.” Nobody knew Pat would be leaving us when I agreed to give this talk, and the obligation suddenly felt like a serendipitous gift  – a chance to honor Pat in some small way. If I know anything about what it means to live “the writing life,” I learned it from Pat Conroy. I could use that knowledge – some of which I’ve incorporated into my own writing life, some of which I only hope to – to organize my talk. Voila!

When I realized this, while walking the trail this morning, the talk just started writing itself . . . unfolding in my head so quickly and fully I could scarcely keep from laughing out loud with the delight of it. It felt like Pat was speaking it into my ear, and I was torn between the need to rush home and write it all down . . . and the deep desire to stay there, on that greening, awakening, spring-kissed trail, where his spirit was so palpable to me.

I came to the spot where I’d taken this photo of a cardinal perched in brambles, just a few days ago, when my heart was so heavy with the shock of loss. It’s a nice picture – a lovely picture, in fact – but it could have been better had I gotten closer to the cardinal. And the only way to get closer to the cardinal would have been to walk beyond the bright green sign that reads: “Danger! Alligators. Do Not Enter.”

And I realized I’d just hit upon the secret to Pat Conroy’s writing life – one of them, anyway: He was never afraid to get closer to the alligators. He knew that to get at the truth and beauty of the cardinal, you had to get up close and personal with the gator. And he was always willing to go there, beyond the danger sign.

There’s so much more to say about this, but for now I’ll just leave you with the following: As I crossed the boardwalk over the wetlands, still pondering my newly hatched metaphor and all its many layers, a bright cardinal swooped across my path at eye level, so close to my face I felt the wind on my cheek and heard its whoosh. His feathers may even have brushed my sunglasses; I’m still not sure. It was all so swift and sudden, so frightening and wondrous, I was left shaking as I watched the red bird disappear into the rookery.

They say a cardinal encounter is a visitation from a loved one who’s passed. Leave it to the son of Santini to go all ‘fighter pilot’ on me.

Read more about Pat Conroy here, here here and here.