Reading people, pondering life's questions - Mary Jane Holt

I had a delightful conversation in the morning with James Sheehan. He is the first attorney-turned-author I have met since John Grisham that I really like. A solid depth of soul is just as evident in this fellow.

"The Mayor of Lexington Avenue," by Sheehan, was just released in paperback by St. Martin's, and the company will bring out his second novel, "The Law of Second Chances," in March. Don't you love that last title? I have not read either of them yet, but I will, and I am guessing that I will love them.

Sometimes, I meet people and I want to read them a while, before I read that they write or even hear what they say. I always have been that way about politicians. I am increasingly becoming more like that in reference to actors and musicians, as well. Oh, and I once thought I could learn to separate the art from the artist. Imagine that.

It's like a story from "Mountain Trailways for Youth," by Mrs. Charles Cowman, which I read nearly 40 years ago. She told of a sailor who approached a weary missionary at the end of a tiring day to tell him about a man on one of the islands of the Inland Sea, near Japan, who wanted to meet the missionary.

To the request that he travel to meet the man, the missionary responded, "I am dreadfully tired; could you please take a bible to him for me?"

To that, the sailor responded, "No, teacher, it is not time to take that man a bible... that man is reading you yet a while."

I love that story.

I suppose that reading people is my favorite pastime. The same weekend I met Jim Sheehan, I also met four fascinating women: Darnell Arnoult, author of "Sufficient Grace"; Lynn York, author of "The Sweet Life"; Pamela Duncan, author of "The Big Beautiful"; and Virginia Boyd, author of "One Fell Sweep."

These close friends are quite the quartet of female writing talent. In fact, it was Darnell's title of her recent novel, "Sufficient Grace," that actually prompted me to attend the convention. Long story there ... I will just say I am glad we talked several times by phone prior to the convention where I finally met her.

It could be that sufficient grace, and my decision to attend that convention, may have saved my writing career. I had been so close to actually destroying several projects, giving up writing my column, and not writing anything anymore.

I find that so hard to believe today, but that's where I was before Wanda Jewell, executive director of the Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance, reached out and saved me.

Oh, she did not know she did that. That's the beauty of it all. We just never know who God will use, or when, or how ... to show us there really is "sufficient grace."

The pen that had been therapy for me all my life had become a burdensome shovel that was exposing more pain than I could bear to dig up.

I think I knew that God and everybody close to me would still love me, if I never wrote another word. Yet, in the end, I knew I would not still love me.

So, I write once more for joy, and with tremendous gratitude that my life permits me to know so many wonderful people.

In the midst of our morning conversation, Jim Sheehan said something to me that I will not soon forget. His words were, "Don't you think that the message of Christ is that pain and suffering help you see the world more clearly?"

Well, no ... I did not ever really think that, but I am thinking about it now. I am so extraordinarily intrigued by honest questions. I would welcome a thousand great heart- and mind-provoking questions to any far-too-quick answer concerning all the perceived inequities of this world.

Yes, I have been tempted, over the past year, to lay down my pen and just enjoy my family and this wonderful rural wildlife haven, in which I am so blessed to live. But, I could never stop reading people and writing about them.

As one character, an itinerant preacher, in "Sufficient Grace" put it: "Sometimes miracles go by the name coincidence. Sometimes they go by the name accident. Sometimes they go by the names unexpected, longshot, curveball, miscalculation."

Thank you, Darnell and Wanda and Jim and Consuelo Valdez for the miraculous exclamation points you have so recently placed in my life.

Mary Jane Holt writes columns for the weekend edition of the Clayton News Daily and the Henry Daily Herald. You can visit her at www.maryjaneholt.com.