And then the news came in.
A heartbreaking story touched me of a local man killed in a tragic automobile accident not far from our home. Shag was a hard-working retail worker at our local Costco that everyone—and I mean everyone—adored for his good nature and kind words. Oddly, I only knew his first name—his nickname was Shag—and I’d just seen him yesterday evening on my way out. His last words to me were, “Be safe, now. Have a nice day.” Yes, sir. Right back at you.
Sadness didn’t have to fill me too far. I was still reeling from last Friday, June 24th, —my friend and mentor’s birthday. Wally F. would have been 93. He was one of the last OSS—Office of Strategic Services—men from World War II (http://tjoconnorbooks.blogspot.com/2015/08/dying-is-not-farewell.html). He was the retired Deputy Director of Communications at CIA. He was the Vice President and General Manager of a former consulting firm where we met. Is, was, will be forever, my best friend. I lost him August 16 of last year. But on Friday, I visited Arlington National Cemetery and had a few words with him. Afterwards, there was lunch at our favorite Greek Taverna where I tipped Retsina in his absence. For days before, and still today, his loss remains ever present. And hearing about Shag—whom I barely knew—strangely stilled me. It reminded me of the brevity of life and the looming mystery none of us can solve—when is it too late?
Life is just too short. Are we living it or waiting and watching it go by?
So, I cannot blog about life on the road or the toils and joys of being an author. I cannot complain about exhaustion and friendships and heartbreak and angst. I cannot blog about life as a writer where I get to do and say and write whatever I wish in the name of my stories. I cannot suggest that my dream coming true is in anyway a misgiving or burden. Even the down days—the terrible days—I cannot.
Searching my computer for the tragedy of Shag’s passing, the headlines turned my other cheek—Istanbul. Terrorists hit again and massacred dozens of innocents. Weeks ago it was Florida. Before that, Paris, California ... others—more and more and more. Unfortunately, I understand those headlines. I get that world. It has been part of my profession my entire life. Bad guys. Victims. Terrorism. Loss.
But vehicle accidents, heart attacks, and age? The end result is the same. None of us is getting out of here alive.
This blog isn’t about my horrible, crazy life as an author—I say that sarcastically with a touch of embarrassment that I would even consider blogging that today, even in jest, about this life I love so much. Not now.
Life is just too short. We know where we’ve been—what brought us to this day—but we don’t know if tomorrow is there or not. Do we know where we’re going? Why we’re headed there? And with that uncertainty comes the biggest questions we should be asking every day we open our eyes—am I doing what I want? Am I who I want to be? Do I dare reach for what’s missing?
What if …
Some thirty-seven years ago I ran like hell from a small town in Upstate New York seeking adventure and life away from a small farming community where the streets rolled up before dark. I chased life pretty hard and escaped many an adventure unscathed. My dream was to write and travel and swashbuckle. But for the better part of thirty years I skipped my writing dreams and focused on family and career—until a series of events changed my life. First, the company I was COO of was sold out from under me and left me standing alone and scared. The same year, my brother in law, Randy—a dear, close friend—unexpectantly died. In his wake I found myself teetering on the edge of my own medical crisis and wondered if I were next.
And then the questions starting colliding—No, I wasn’t who I wanted to be. No, I had things I damn well wanted to do. Tomorrow would wait. Today was infront of me—in my hand. Now.
I sat and wrote my second novel in fifteen years, and when it was done, wrote two more. My fourth, Dying to Know, was my first published book some 902 days ago and poof, I was an author. Since, I’ve published two more, have another coming out in 2017, and just finished my ninth novel of my career. All of that—every ounce of energy and drive and every word I wrote—came because of the one simple epiphany—life is too short. None of us is getting out of here alive. For me though, they’re going to have to carry me out, because I’m going to be worn out! I realized that I had to reach out and take what I’d chased all my life. There is no “later” or “maybe” or “hope.” There is only now. Only action. Only the realization that I didn’t want to get to the end of life—especially if it sneaked up and bit me in the …—with more regrets than smiles.
So, for friendly, gracious Shag whose life was so tragically stilled, and for Wally and Randy and all the others who have touched my life, I owe it to you all to not blog about poor me the tired, travelling author. I owe it to you to say, “My turn. I’m going to write more books. I’m going to find what’s missing and seize it. I’m going live now. I’m going to make sure that when I die—tonight or fifty years from now—I’m so worn out and ragged that hell won’t have any use for me. I will be answering for my life with “Been there, done that.” Regrets—Ummm, nope, sorry. But boy, do I have stories…
I may never write the great American novel or even a New York Times Best Seller. But I’m going to write a ton of books about life and adventure and fun. I’m going to chase my losses until they’re gains. I’ll ride my Harley until the wheels, or I, fall off from age and decay. I’ll find lost friends and rekindle the kinship, and for new ones, they will know me and I them. Most of all, I won’t take the safe route. I won’t be sheepish and polite and withdraw and let others blaze the trail. I won’t settle for second or third choice because it’s the “correct” or “nice” thing to do. I’m going to live life and suck it dry—ride, write, love, and adventure on. I’m going down in flames. When I die and the devil takes a look at what’s left, he’ll say, “Jesus, what was wrong with you?” And he’ll pass because along my way, I will have made others happy and glad to have known me. They’ll miss me and miss my good work and books and charity and above all, miss my lust for life. And they—and the devil—will envy my choices in life. Maybe somewhere along the way, someone will say, “I’m with him.”
But most of all, I’m going often to Arlington and brag to Wally about my latest adventure and try to one-up his life’s work—I never will of course. Somewhere, he’ll be laughing and shaking his finger and cautioning me about my limits. Even then, neither of us will know what they are.
So for all of you I say again—Life is too short. Dammit, go do something about it!
Tj O’CONNOR IS THE GOLD MEDAL WINNER OF THE 2015 INDEPENDENT PUBLISHERS BOOK AWARDS (IPPY) FOR MYSTERIES. He is the author of Dying to Know, Dying for the Past, and Dying to Tell—and New Sins for Old Scores, a new paranormal mystery coming in 2017! He recently finished his new thriller and is beginning three sequels to previous work. Tj is an international security consultant specializing in anti-terrorism, investigations, and threat analysis—life experiences that drive his novels. With his former life as a government agent and years as a consultant, he has lived and worked around the world in places like Greece, Turkey, Italy, Germany, the United Kingdom, and throughout the Americas—among others. He was raised in New York's Hudson Valley and lives with his wife and Lab companions in Virginia where they raised five children. Dying to Know is also the 2015 Bronze Medal winner of the Reader’s Favorite Book Review Awards, a finalist for the Silver Falchion Best Books of 2014, and a finalist for the Foreword Review’s 2014 INDIEFAB Book of the Year Award.
Learn about Tj’s world at:
Web Site: www.tjoconnor.com