The winter of our lives comes unanticipated. Even if we feel some urgency to get something finished before winter comes, the first snowfall is always a surprise. We look out the window to observe it. We remark upon it. “Winter’s here,” we say.
My long-time friends (let’s call them Raul and Marge) have been working on the second volume of Raul’s memoirs for years. Progress has been slow. He cannot see any longer; his hair is thin and as white as the snow that covers the branches in winter. He depends on Marge to listen to him, and to type, as he tells his story. She is committed, and diligent, but she is becoming more and more forgetful.
Several years ago, when I realized that Marge was losing her ability to organize, I become concerned for their project. She had always been proficient in using the computer to write and to help edit the bits and pieces of Raul’s narrative. These fragments were in hundreds of separate files, sometimes poorly named, so that it would not be easy to put them in chronological order. More than that, she was having difficulty finding the folders in which the memoir files were stored. She called me often, sometimes daily, sometimes twice a day, to help her get into her email, to search for products on the Internet that she might want to order, and to help her find a file in which she and Raul needed to work.
For a couple of years, I was able to talk her through her computer-related perplexities on the telephone while going to visit only occasionally. Then on one visit to help with printer problems, I asked for permission to back up her files on a flash drive and store them on my own computer for safety. I had taught her how to back up the memoir files, but discovered that she wasn’t doing it, because she could no longer remember the sequence of the steps that she needed to do to accomplish the task. Yes, I had written everything down, and yes, I had led her through the sequence while she sat at the computer doing each step herself, and yes, I had asked her to write down the steps for herself in her own way, but even when I taped these instructions to her computer monitor, somehow they were dislodged, lost, and couldn’t be found.
With Raul’s permission, I sent a copy of all the files to Raul’s son who seemed to care about his father’s memoirs. The story, after all, was well written, and covered a period of time during the second world war that overlapped several countries and involved prominent well-known political and literary figures with whom Raul’s father had been acquainted. This seemed to be a memoir that might be historically important. Aside from the fact that Raul and Marge were close friends of mine, I cared because Raul’s recollections of his and his father’s lives during the late 1930s and throughout the 1940s very likely contained material not recorded anywhere else.
Two weeks ago, I visited Marge who now lives in the assisted living area of the nursing home where Raul is being cared for. I discovered that she is desperate to finish Raul’s memoirs before it’s too late, before he will not be able to work with her anymore to put everything in order and to write the ending. The time could be soon.
I also discovered that most of the files had disappeared from her computer. She had no idea what had happened. She had been trying to get Raul’s son to send her a print-out of all the files so that she and Raul could put them in order, but his son was not responding. He had myriad problems of his own (and it’s true; he seems to).
Was it too late? Would this be another case of what must be hundreds of thousands of valuable writings, for whatever reason, that would fail to enlighten the reading world in some way? Had Raul and Marge taken too long in writing his memoirs? Would they be unable to finish? Would this manuscript join the ranks of the unpublished?
Who was I to judge?
I told Marge that I had all the backup files and that I would print them out for her, so that she and Raul could write the ending to the manuscript and try to put all the files in a cohesive order. I had read enough of them to know that they had done a remarkable job of writing and editing the narrative.
The manuscript turned out to be a print-out more than four inches thick. I separated the files and stapled them, put them into a small rolling cart along with rubber bands and paper clips so that she could roll the work back and forth from Raul’s room in the nursing home section of the home in which they lived. They could try to work on it once again.
Is it too late? I don’t know, but it wasn’t for me to discourage them from trying as members of their family apparently were doing. People’s choices are their own, and if those choices seem to be good ones, they should be encouraged no matter the obstacles.
I thought of myself too. I’m not young anymore. In fact, to many of my readers, I probably seem ancient. My writings don’t have the urgency that Raul’s story has, so if I don’t finish anything, it’s not a big deal to anyone except me and my desires to get a message out there to anyone who might pay attention. Someday, it will be too late for me too, but until then, I will keep trying.