Sue Grafton died on Thursday.
The news hit me harder than expected. I cried when I found out last night. I cried again, this morning. Grafton was more than a successful author of detective fiction. She was a humble, local darling. And she was one of my personal heroes.
My immediate reaction, before the tears, was incredulous denial. How could this happen? After all, she was the author of the finite Kinsey Millhone series, each book in sequence of the alphabet, from A is for Alibi to Y is for Yesterday.
She never made it to Z.
In books, we have beginnings, middles, and ends. We have resolutions and epiphanies. Most of all, we have closure. Without closure, we feel cheated. Either that, or we anxiously await the next book. The final book. The one that reaffirms why we started reading the series in the first place.
But in real life, we rarely have such closure. Our deaths are rarely as wrapped up or timely as those of our protagonists. Nothing provides a more inescapably ironic reminder of this than Grafton's premature passing. Yet knowing this never seems to stop us from setting goals as though true closure is ultimately attainable.
As a fledgling author myself, without goals, I would tread water in an ocean of potential. Any given day, I have a handful of story ideas to choose from; dozens of plot points to throw at my protagonist; thousands of words to call upon for shape and style and tone. At some point, I have to pick a direction and swim. The result is one final manuscript, and a million left unwritten.
I grab goals where I can: deadlines, word-counts, objectives. So it's only natural that my thoughts this New Year's weekend would gravitate towards such resolutions. What do I want to accomplish this year? What do I want to write? What do I want to finish?
But suddenly, my thoughts turn to Grafton. She knew what she wanted to finish. We all knew. Again, the contrast. Unmet goals. The unfairness of real life, making me question my own goals for the future, let alone the point of even having them. There is no guarantee.
Then the flip side of New Year's gradually occurs to me. We not only see the day as an opportunity to map out our future, but as an opportunity to acknowledge our past. Annual highlights. Lifetime achievements. And suddenly, Sue Grafton's work turns on its head. She didn't leave her twenty-sixth Kinsey Millhone book unwritten. Rather, she wrote twenty-five of them throughout her lifetime.
Too often we look towards imagined futures than accomplished pasts. Too often we pine for what we want rather than acknowledging what we have. Growth, potential, future endeavors... Such concepts dominate our western minds, and they do indeed have their place. But it's equally important to tap into the eastern philosophy of peace, harmony, and presence if we are to ever feel whole. It's important to acknowledge our achievements.
Rather than worrying so much about writing my next book... Rather than dreaming of a day when my body of work becomes something of a success... Perhaps I should take a moment to acknowledge that this past year, I in fact published something. I have made progress.
If I gain nothing more from Grafton's death than this realization, her very life has provided me with as much closure as any of her books. Thank you, Sue, for being my guide. This year, Y is for yesterday.