A Mr. Holland Moment

Timing is a funny thing. When I set the mid-April date for the launch of the Kickstarter campaign for my middle grade adventure novel The Misadventured Summer of Tumbleweed Thompson, I was mostly considering a few important calendar events. Halfway between Christmas and summer break, the campaign’s end allowed enough time to work through the production process and deliver books in early fall. And, thanks to the support of 417 wonderful people, that’s going to happen! Wahoo!

But, in one of those weird coincidences, something else happened as the campaign reached its tail-end. We reached full funding on Mother’s Day, which this year, also happened to come at the end of Teacher Appreciation Week.

Still with me? Okay.

So, here’s why all this matters: among the flowers, handmade necklaces, cards, and other emblems of gratitude my wife received from the families of her Kindergarten students, she got a completely unexpected note from a high-schooler. “You probably don’t know me, but …” it began, then went on to tell her how much she enjoys watching the way my wife interacts with her students, loving on them, teaching them, day in and day out.

My wife was blindsided. Not that she doesn’t know she’s touching lives. But to hear about it in so unexpected a way was so meaningful, she was speechless. “I had no idea,” she said.

And we really don’t, do we? We have no idea how the lives we live are affecting others, or how our individual choices add up to something larger. Perhaps it’s a version of the poignant line from the play Our Town: “Do any human beings ever realize life while they live it?”

Sadly, if I’m any indication, we don’t. Not as much as I should, anyway.

The Kickstarter campaign brought with it a lot of unexpected realizations, about myself, about the world, about stories and people. Many of them I won’t really process until time has passed, and I’ve gotten perspective on the whole experience. But one that I’ve been pondering recently has to do with this idea.

Impact. Influence. The fact that “no man is an island, entire of itself; every man/is a piece of the continent,  a part of the main,” as John Donne wrote.

It’s so tempting to equate routine with mundane, and equate mundane with a lack of value. When I say it like that, it sounds ridiculous, but that’s how we think sometimes, isn’t it?

From the very start of the campaign a month ago, people – friends, college roommates, former students, and a whole bunch of “strangers” – reached out to join arms with me around this project. Not only did they back the campaign, they spread the word, they shared their enthusiasm, and some of them even told me they were checking the campaign homepage regularly. Every time I’d see them, they would give me a big smile and a thumbs-up.

So many amazing folks stood beside me, took my hand, and said, “We want this to happen. We’re grateful for you in our lives, we’re grateful for your risk. And we want your writing to take flight into the world.”

Wow.

*90’s movie alert

Maybe you’ve seen the 1995 movie Mr. Holland’s Opus. I’m feeling a lot like Mr. Holland right now. Okay, yes his first name is Glenn. I get that. But also, he’s also a guy who comes face to face in the movie’s climactic scene with hundreds of reminders that his life has impact.

A college mentor of mine used to call this process “the touching of life to life.” We’re here for the touching of life to life. And that can happen anywhere. The checkout line. The day care. The soccer field. The hospital room. Wherever our life, our vocation, or passions, or just our day-to-day travels take us. We touch lives. Will I be aware, present enough in the moment, to “realize life” while I live it?

Maybe I’m a little slow, and it took me this campaign to see it, but I’m grateful for this little Mr. Holland moment. Now that the campaign is over, I’m thrilled to be dedicating myself to working with our team to make the best book possible. I’m also thrilled to be able to sit down this summer and dream up more stories from Rattlesnake Junction. You all deserve it. And I can’t wait to share them with you.

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