There's a kind of wistfulness when good things happen to older people. Some have been waiting their whole lives for something really good to happen. And by good, I mean something outside the normal but wonderful moments of marriages and births and Little League games, and piano recitals.
That's the way I felt at two recent events in Athens, Ga., for my just-released autobiography, It Is Written: My Life in Letters. When I started out as a published writer of books some 30 years ago, every action and reaction in my life had to do with what came next.
Could I create any work of art that had a chance to out-last my own life?
Could I create this art without shortchanging my family and friends?
I don't think we ever know the answers completely. But I remember so well how I felt when my first book came out in 1984. I couldn't quite believe it. People all over the country were reading a book I'd written. And most of them said very kind things about it. Hungry already, the praise made me even hungrier for "success."
Even then I knew I would never equate success with sales or money, as most Americans do. My only standard of success was this: Can I look myself in the mirror and say that I did the best I could on this project? If the answer was yes, then the book was a success.
Some of those successes brought it very little money to the family coffers. Others helped us out at times when we really needed it. But the whole time I kept my eye on hard work and servicing whatever talent I might have.
So the first two events in Athens for my autobiography came wrapped in a sunset glow. Not that I am through writing or, I hope, publishing. But the book does mark the end of something. I am no longer looking at how it might help my writing "career." I long ago stopped worrying what might come next.
Now is the time to sum things up and then go on as I can, grateful for the time that was given me, and for the wonderful family whose love I have shared these 64 years.
Maybe there's no greater success than that.