Monday, April 4, 2011

When people die before you reach them

Like, I presume, many people who have written nonfiction, I’ve developed a relationship with some of the people I’ve written about. That includes some who were dead before I started.

Everyone I research becomes famous in my mind, no matter the nature of their story. (In other words, some are not household names, so they’re not famous beyond my mind.) When I first connect with a person I’ve written about or want to write about, I’m usually a bit starstruck. (Many people assume it works the other way around.)

Yet when I am writing about someone who is deceased, I sometimes feel this futile sense of sadness that I will never get to meet him or her. The sadness is more acute the more recently the person died. That’s because it’s compounded with the feeling that I could have reached them if I’d started just a bit earlier.

Once, a person died within a few days of the day someone else suggested I speak with him. Another time I began looking for someone in January 2010 and didn’t find the trail until January 2011, at which point I learned she had died in March 2010. If only I’d gotten to her immediately after starting…

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