Last night, Pat Conroy died from pancreatic cancer, and I sit today in shadow. I have cried some and simply sat to feel about the edges of the void. The biggest part of that void being the recent loss of my mother, it’s boundaries brittle and tender to the touch. Now Pat Conroy’s loss has left those tenuous edges ragged and torn. And so I sit here at my keyboard, fingering the jagged tear wondering if I can draw the blood of spirit to cleanse this wound, to help me find the flow of words to say goodbye.
Before I chose to step on the writer’s path, reading had already chosen my pantheon of gods to follow. It is comprised of a small damaged group of fearless authors with Pat Conroy at its head. What granted this high post to Pat Conroy was not just his gift of language, but that he was the antithesis of a god. He did not seek tribute and supplicants. Each book he wrote was in turn an offering on the altar to the congregation, his readers. He was not granting forgiveness, but seeking it. He saw his hurt and anger and weaknesses as demons that might be exorcised through lyrical incantation and exposure to daylight.
The son of Santini was in his own way a fighter pilot like his old man. Only Pat’s plane was literature, his armaments his words, and his wars were racism, sexism, bigotry, giving voice where voice was demanded. He helped to pave the way for women at his Alma mater The Military College of South Carolina, he stood in protest against the Confederate Flag at the South Carolina State House, and he took the time and effort to lovingly teach black children on the isolated South Carolina Island of Daufuskie when the school board and society wanted nothing more than for them to just disappear.
It seemed to me from reading Pat’s books, that the primary architects of his disastrous childhood and pain-filled adulthood were both his mother and his father. I think most of the books he wrote were attempts at forgiveness (of himself and them), and attempts at healing the deep wounds to his spirit. With his last book, The Death of Santini, I believe he had finally achieved that, limping sweat covered across an ill-defined finish line, if not at peace at least in some kind of equilibrium.
In simple terms Pat, your writing always made me want to write. Your words stirred me in ways I would never have expected combinations of letters to be capable of. Thank you for not shying away from the world. I miss you, goodbye.