Friday, January 12, 2018

Don't Let Your Dream Die With You

Arden Edwin Harper
May 17, 1926--January 8, 2018
The man pictured to the left is my father, Arden Edwin Harper. He died this past Monday at the age of 91, and I miss him more than I can say. But I don't want my loss (and that of my brother and sister) to override the value of the lesson he taught me. Of course there were many lessons, but the one I'm referring to is to not wait another minute to do (or at least put into action a plan to do) something you've always wanted to experience or accomplish.

While my father was a highly-educated man--he had a master's degree and was a teacher, coach, principal, and superintendent of schools throughout his entire career in education (and beyond, since he taught mathematics at two different community colleges following his retirement from the public school system), he was also a gifted writer. Late in his life, around 80 or so, he began to take an interest in writing stories about his youth, his high school and college years, his experiences in the Army during World War II, and other topics. He had a phenomenal memory and could recall the names, dates, places, sisters, brothers, parents, etc., of everyone and every place that populated his stories. I have one book-length manuscript he wrote detailing his time in the Army during WWII, and many shorter essays/stories on other topics. I recall when I was younger hearing him say he'd like to write a book one day. I always assumed he would. After all, he was my dad; he could do anything.

When his interest in writing was re-kindled, he was into his ninth decade on this earth. Technology was a real challenge for him, although he was as sharp as he ever was right up until about a week before his death. Intelligence wasn't the problem. It was not being able to keep up with the constant changes in technology and the publishing process that eroded his desire. Oh, he still enjoyed the act of writing and hearing my reactions to his pieces of work, but his interest in actually publishing anything at that late date was slowly being extinguished. It seemed insurmountable. Perhaps it was.

I mourned that loss, and tried many times to convince him that he still had so much to offer the world, that there weren't many WWII veterans left who could so accurately tell their stories of that time in our history, that I would help all I could with any questions he had on computers, technology, or submitting his work. But I think he felt it was just too late. But I don't think so. I think he could have done a fine job of writing that book (or books) even at his age. I think he thought he could always do it tomorrow, but tomorrow turned into next week and next month and next year, and eventually led to his last day.

I'm certainly not disappointed in the writing work he did accomplish. It is well-written, hilarious, inspirational, historically accurate, and done expertly. I will cherish it always. I'm disappointed, though, that he never had the chance to hold his published book in his hands and tell himself, "I did this." Because he could have.

Now I know our desires and dreams change as we age. Other things were just as--or maybe more--important to him as time went on as writing ever was. He was happy, occupied, content. He read a lot, kept up on current events, was a master at crossword puzzles (I mean hard ones) and Sudoku. His mind was sharp, but his stamina waned, and so he eventually lost the will to do what he once thought he could do some time during his life.

Don't let this happen to you. I'm primarily writing to you writers out there, but this could be applied to any dream or goal of anyone reading this. What's the worst that could happen if you gave it (whatever "it" might be) your all? You might decide you don't like it as much as you thought you would. You might fall flat on your face and tell yourself you'll never do that again. So be it. That happens to me all the time. It happens to all of us all the time. But there's something about that very special dream that makes us gun-shy. Hate it, fail it, but please, never, ever, ever sell yourself short by not trying it.

My dad didn't completely give up on his dream, and I realize that the writing he did do was probably enough for him at that stage in his life. I'm happy for that; I really am. But I'm sad that the world didn't know Arden Edwin Harper as the author of the fine work he produced.

Maybe I'm looking for something to hold on to now that he's gone. Or wishing some accomplishment on him that he really never wanted that badly. Could my hearing him talk about writing a book have been a frivolous comment he made that I just took too seriously? Could his writing that book-length manuscript without having it actually published been enough for him? I won't know this side of Heaven, and by that time it won't matter.

My father was a fine man. The world will just have to take my word for it that he was also a fine author. Because he was.
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