Higher than the question of our duration is the question of our deserving. Immortality will come to such as are fit for it, and he who would be a great soul in the future must be a great soul now. Ralph Waldo Emerson

I felt with great sadness the loss of authors, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Alistair Macleod this week. Their stories entertained, called us to action and gave us glimpses into ourselves through the circumstances of others. I loved them through their writing. I was also fortunate enough to meet one of these wonderful men.

Alistair participated in the Whistler Writers Festival in 2012. He was kind, supportive, and funny. He made me laugh at my own eccentricities and my need to control every last minutia of detail. He didn’t use email so all the travel arrangements I made for him were done by phone. Because he was usually teaching when I called, I would speak with his lovely wife.

“Hello Mrs. Macleod, it’s me again. Stella from Whistler.”

Just like Alistair, she would greet me like an old friend, ask me how I was doing, laugh out loud when I told her I was neck deep and drowning. “You’ll be fine, dear.”

Hiding out in the afternoons, I read each of Alistair’s stories from his incredible collection, Island, slowly over several weeks, savouring his words as I might a piece of fine chocolate. He built entire lives, whole communities, and lasting images with his words. I felt like I knew these people intimately, and would never forget them. I think of those stories even now, real to me as my own life. And isn’t that what great writing is about?

I wrote Alistair a letter after I finished Island, to tell him how much I enjoyed his stories, to thank him, to tell him that I was both inspired and in awe. I’m sure I sounded like a fanatical stalker.

He sent me a handwritten note dated April 5th.  Yes, I still have it.

“Thank you for your kind words regarding the stories in Island.” Then he remembered that I had asked him at the festival for any suggestions he might have to improve this little festival I loved so much.

“I thought it was great just as it is,” he wrote. “You were very hospitable. Bravo! Hopefully, our paths will cross again.” I choke up rereading that last line.

I never had the pleasure of meeting Gabriel, but I’ve read everything he ever wrote. Love in the Time of Cholera is one of my favourite books of all time. I’ve reread it several times. And on each occasion I discover something new, something to admire. One of the best last lines ever written is in Love in the Time of Cholera. But you’ll have to read the entire book first, everything that comes before culminates in that one line. That is the power of writing: Gabriel’s and Alistair’s.

Gabriel’s books speak to injustices, the chasm between the wealthy and the poor, the haves and have nots, all veiled in story. This man cared about his world, wanted to say something about it, wanted us as readers to pay attention. I hope I do that if for nothing else, but to honour them.

I will continue to reread their work. As a writer I strive for their form of excellence every single day. Rereading them motivates. 

But they will remain immortal for me because of their humanity. They were, and will always be great souls.


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