I am grateful for Pat Conroy and I am very sad that he has died.
Pat was a writer who had “great command of the language of the heart”, having penned many books including The Prince of Tides and The Great Santini, always writing the truth of life where childhood is fraught with parents who do harm. He wrote and wrote and continued to write about a past that wounded him, hoping to find some understanding in the violence he experienced at the hand of his father. Conroy said he wore the wounds of his past “on my back like the carapace of a tortoise, except my shell burdens and does not protect”.
Conroy is mourned and his death is a great loss to the literary community, a loss to all of us as we journey to understand why, as we hope to find our own happy ending. Is there such a thing? Conroy said “even the oldest wounds can heal”.
Conroy has said that he wrote to “explain his own life to himself”. I would hazard a guess that most of us who write, write for the same reason, to understand that which changed our path, that which had us becoming someone whom we otherwise would have not.
Conroy was the oldest of seven children who grew up in a home of violence, where their decorated Marine Corps fighter pilot father regularly doled out physical harm to his children and they all grew up with their own version of wounds, wounds that led Pat to writing and survival. He said that writers are “both devotees and prisoners of their childhood”.
I have a penchant for stories and movies with a happy ending, especially those that require some digging in and letting go of the past as though if I watch enough of them I will figure out how to create my own happy ending. Is it possible to let go of all that which came before, the good and the bad. Is it possible to really begin again with fresh eyes and ears, not doomed to repeat, not doomed to slip into the well-worn path of unsteady ground. Happy movies would have us so believe and perhaps it is that very notion that restores us to ourselves, as if we first must firm up the ground beneath us before we can help create steady ground with another.
Maybe it is the story behind truths that leads us to a happy ending, the truth of loss and the truth of heartache, where we can push through and emerge into a new day, knowing perhaps that we had been to the edge and prevailed. The Prince of Tides was a hard read, as all Conroy’s books could be considered, but the language of understanding with which he painted was nothing short of extraordinary and there are great lessons to be learned beneath his pen.
No matter from what platform we are jumping from in the hope of finding peace, I believe each day represents a possibility and the power is in each of us to do just that. If we listen to the silence in the pause just before we draw in our breath, in that millisecond of a moment before our lungs inflate, anything is possible, including peace, joy and even love.