Time has slipped by, and I’ve been meaning to write to you. I met you about a year and a half ago at a conference of environmental educators in Asheville, North Carolina. You were 11 years old then.
Your mother had brought you to one of my sermonettes. The two of you were sitting in the front row as I spoke.
Afterwards, I was signing books and I saw you in the line. You politely and solemnly handed me a book to sign. You told me you had a question. I leaned across the table to hear you. You asked:
“What does it feel like to finish a book?
Maybe I was tired that day. I answered by paraphrasing someone else’s quote:
“Books are never finished, only abandoned.”
I don’t recall who I attributed that line to that day. In slightly different wording, it’s been credited to writers and poets Paul Valéry, W. H. Auden, and Oscar Wilde; or, when referencing art, attributed to Picasso or Leonardo da Vinci. And others. It’s a meme more than a quote. Writers. Artists. Bricklayers. We all bemoan the feeling that the thing we’ve created is never quite right. I told you how every time I pick up one of my books I see a sentence, a paragraph, sometimes a chapter, that I wish were better, that I still want to rewrite. The book is never finished.
You told me you want to write books. So, I shared a few encouraging words. Start now. Write a journal, launch a blog. Self-publish your own books (established authors are doing that more and more). Don’t wait. Write now.
Someone else handed me a book and I turned to sign it. When I looked back, you were gone. I hadn’t finished what I wanted to say. I worried that I had discouraged you with that line about abandonment.
I was still signing books when I began to receive a string of text messages from your mother: “On the way home, my daughter was telling me what you told her, that ‘Books are never finished, they’re only abandoned.’ But she said you should have added another line: ‘They’re abandoned, but then they are adopted by the reader.’”
Virginia, that was such a reassuring and wise thing to say. Sometimes words do move out and into other hearts and homes, where they are given more life.
And she wrote something else, about our shared cause: connecting children and adults and communities to the natural world.
“Rich, as you said in your speech, it will take a river to succeed, to reach the place where we see a future that is green and growing and positive. We need us all. There will be those that are like prophets who see the future that could be; those that are the operationalists to devise a plan to reach that future; and those that are politicians who figure out how to make it all work in reality.”
In a final text message, your mother spoke of you again, describing how convinced you are that you will become an author. And she believes that you will be one of the ones who will “galvanize and awaken the others who are needed to make it all work.”
A few weeks later, your mom let me know that you had recruited your friends to start a young author’s club, and that she had offered some operational suggestions.
“She would have none of it. ‘Mom this is all mine…I got this.”
She also said you wondered if I had really meant it when I asked you to send some of your writing. She told you that I did mean it. So, you sent a story and a poem:
The waves melt into the sand
As they splash against the shore
Beating against the land
Of cliffs to one day explore
The sun shines down leaving lonely tourists wanting more
As the moon comes the light fades
Into the empty abyss of past days
—Virginia Bee Ward, 2016
I love your words, Virginia. May I adopt them? I will not abandon them.
Richard Louv is Chairman Emeritus of The Children and Nature Network and the author of “LAST CHILD IN THE WOODS: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder,” “THE NATURE PRINCIPLE: Reconnecting with Life in a Digital Age,” “VITAMIN N: The Essential Guide to a Nature-Rich Life,” and other books.
More writing and resources:
15 Characteristics of Leadership Writing
Writers on Writing: A collection of quotes that inspire me
The Lady Across the Lake: How nature stimulates creativity and community
The Hybrid Mind: The More High-Tech Schools Become, the More Nature they Need
Are You a Leader?
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