I am so sick of woo-woo moments I could scream. Yes, woo-woo moments — phenomena called synchronicity by physicists and Jungians — those tiny, magical occasions of stars aligning, of paths crossing, of spooky action at a distance, courted by and beloved of romantics and writers everywhere. I’m having way too many of them, and it’s seriously creeping me out.
I am also very sick of Death. (I’m capitalizing It, because It is starting to feel too familiar, too commonplace; like the character who wields the scythe in Discworld. Death seems to be whacking and slashing Its way through the arts community lately, like a Viking berserker.)
I’m tired of mourning people whom I admire, and of writing memorials. It’s bad enough having to write about the passing of Harper Lee or Natalie Babbitt or Richard Adams, octo- and nonagenarian literary icons, but now I find myself writing about Amy Krouse Rosenthal, memoirist and beloved picture book writer extraordinaire, dead of ovarian cancer at age 51.
Here’s the creepy synchronicity part. It seems like I can’t pick up a book without worrying whether the author will make it through the week. I’m beginning to feel like kid-lit Typhoid Mary. Over the past year, I’ve had way too many completely random encounters with particular books at nearly or exactly the same time their authors were having their own encounters with Death; the most recent on Valentines’ Day.
While browsing in my favorite bookstore, I came across an unfamiliar children’s book on display. I read it and loved it. It was called “Plant A Kiss” and it was perfect for the holiday, a real sweetheart of a book. I looked at the author’s name: Amy Krouse Rosenthal. I knew her work. It is full of fun, energy, wordplay, simplicity and kind-heartedness.
Her books radiate light and love like small suns.
I remember thinking, “Gosh, I wish it wasn’t too late to write about it [for Valentine’s Day]. Well, definitely next year.” I wrote up a note card and filed it away when I got home. I found out later that while I was scribbling away about her little valentine book, the author was writing something infinitely more bittersweet — a poignant farewell and love song to her partner of 26 years entitled, “You May Want To Marry My Husband,” printed in the New York Times.
Maybe you’ve read it. If you haven’t, you should. It says more about happy love and happy marriage, about how life can change in an instant, and how to look Death straight in the eye than a convention of therapists. Because that’s what writers — especially children’s writers, the good ones — do. So read it, if you dare — if your heart is strong enough.
Amy Krouse Rosenthal died 10 days after its publication.
So, another unfortunate coincidence. I don’t want to feel even a tiny bit complicit in these sad losses. I only want to honor them. When talented children’s writers die, we lose and our children lose. There are fewer voices brave and generous enough to share their light and their darkness with us and who speak clearly about life, love and truth.
So don’t wait. As the poet says, “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may.” Hug your kids, and together, listen to the voices telling stories about how to live bold, honest, aware lives. We need them now more than ever.