Commentary - Its Miller time in heaven
By Ramon Presson, Columnist
On Aug. 19, one of my all-time favorite authors and a writing mentor from afar, Calvin Miller, passed away just short of his 75th birthday. His final book, “Letters to Heaven” is a collection of touching and poignant “letters” he had written to close friends and family members already in heaven awaiting his arrival. There are also letters to special people Miller met along the way who left a positive imprint on his soul. And there are messages to people that Miller never met but is looking forward to greeting, asking questions, getting acquainted, and telling them of their impact on his life—writers like C.S. Lewis and Madeline L’Engle, singers like Johnny Cash, and 9/11 hero Todd Beamer who spearheaded the courageous actions of fellow passengers on hijacked flight 93.
In the spirit of his book I have written an open letter to Calvin Miller at his new residence in heaven.
I remember the first time we met—1985 in Tallahassee when our mutual friend Bill Rey invited me to join the two of you at his home for dinner because he knew I was a budding writer and a new fan of your work. I was star-struck at the table. We mainly talked about poetry. I later sent a sampler of my poems to you there at your church in Omaha, and you returned them with encouraging comments scribbled on each one along with a kind letter that instantly became a prized possession. Since that day I have tried to keep in mind how powerful is the flow of encouragement from an established author to an aspiring writer.
I remember you asking Bill if his young daughter had a copy of “When the Aardvark Parked on the Ark” and Bill brought it back to the table. “I want to give it to Ramon, so I’ll pay you for it, and then I’ll mail you another copy,” you said to Bill. Naturally Bill protested and wanted to just give me the book but you insisted on pulling out $15 for the used hardback. Bill reluctantly accepted the cash, you inscribed the book inside the cover, and I felt like both thanking and apologizing to you, Bill, and Bill’s daughter for the gift.
Honestly, it is neither the best of your books nor my favorite but it is the most meaningful one to me because of the significance of an author’s humility and generosity. Here was a well-known author PAYING for a copy of his OWN book so he could give it away as a gift. Then that author turns around and mails a replacement copy to his host. Since that day I have many times experienced that the greater delight is in giving one surprised recipient a copy of my book – more fulfilling than selling multiple copies to people in line with checkbooks and credit cards. But like you, I am grateful for all readers and am humbled by their encouragement.
I remember a conversation we had at a conference when I was telling you my struggles with trying to be myself while working in a large traditional church. As I poured my heart out you were scribbling something on a piece of paper, which made me feel you weren’t listening. Then you slid the paper across the table to me. It was something in a foreign language – as if I could translate it. You then pronounced the phrase and said that it was Latin for “Institutions Kill Creativity.” You were listening.
Calvin, the 10 years I’ve lived here in Tennessee you were living, writing, and teaching not far away in Birmingham. I was doing more writing and publishing and I so badly wanted to visit you in Alabama and tell you in person how much your early encouragement spurred me on, how much our friendship had meant to me, and how much your philosophy and style of writing has influenced my own. I kept putting off making the contact and making the visit and when I learned in August that you had passed over into glory I was glad for you but sad for me. My procrastination and silence had risen up and bitten me once again.
Calvin, I want to be a modern Renaissance man like you were, fluent in multiple languages of literary and visual arts, deeply philosophical but reachable, deeply spiritual but approachable, able to wed passion with humor. I’m sorry I didn’t get to Birmingham in time to tell you all this. I hope this letter gets to you and will suffice for now.
With love and gratitude,
Author and therapist, Ramon Presson, is the founder of LifeChange Counseling and the Marriage Center of Franklin, TN. www.LifeChangeCS.org firstname.lastname@example.org www.ramonpresson.com
Posted on: 9/17/2012