Will You Let the Universe Use You?

I ran into a former client from my days as a writer’s coach. She’d self-published a memoir about living with a certain disease. She was telling me all the efforts she’d made to market the book, but it never really caught on, except with the local nurses. She said they recommended her book often and would tell her how much it was helping their patients. “So, you made a difference,” I said. And she agreed. For those people, her book helped them heal.

I was listening to an interview with Pharrell Williams, who wrote one of my favorite songs, “Happy.” The interviewer was prodding him to say how he felt about creating a song that had become a worldwide sensation. He answered, “The universe used me.” It was a humble acknowledgment for a song that is widely viewed as genius.

My books are not genius, but like my client, I know they made a difference to some people. Mostly, they made a difference to me and to the handful of special people who inspired each of my seven novels. Shirley Brand was one of those people. I met her at the Greeley library when I was doing some World War II research. She was a volunteer, and she became the inspiration for my children’s book, Doing My Part. Shirley lived alone. She’d never married and had no children, although she had a niece with whom she was close. When the book came out, I hosted a book signing in Greeley in her honor. She wondered if anyone would show up. In walked people who, though she taught them in kindergarten, came to tell her she’d always been their favorite teacher. Some of her former friends and neighbors came too. It was “my night,” premiering my new book, but even I knew, it was really “her night.” And I wanted it to be.

When she passed away, her niece sent me her obituary, which included a mention of my book and noted it was one of the things in Shirley’s life for which she felt the most pride.

If I imagine my life as a Hollywood movie, the film would end with one of those tear-jerker scenes in which I’m standing on a stage accepting a major award for my writing, having just past the million-sale mark, and with producers clamoring for the movie rights. As I’m on the stage, I see the spirit of Shirley sitting in the audience beaming, and everyone and everything else fades away, and it’s just me and her again. And I know that no matter what accolades the book garners, nothing really matters but the two of us and the story we told.

The universe used me, too, just like it used my client, and just like it used Pharrell, because I needed that book, and so did Shirley, and maybe so did a few other souls who’ve read it. And like Pharrell, I’m humbled and eternally grateful.

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