Our writing leaves a legacy

We sat in the school’s music suite, a collection of proud and patient parents as a parade of emerging musical ability inched its way onto the stage before running off in relief. The last of the shrieking violins had been silenced – thankfully – and the last squeaking echo of the clarinets had dissipated. To the delight of some parents who checked their phones, anxious to move on with what was left of their day, there was only one remaining performer.

A senior student, punctuated by his acne and red hair refusing to co-operate, shuffled to his place behind the grand piano. He placed a well-thumbed folder of music on the stand and placed his fingers on the keys.

Then he stopped. Swallowing rising emotion, he blinked out into the glare and gave a hesitant introduction to his piece: in light of the passing of Leonard Cohen he wanted to play a tribute. With a deep breath, his fingers moved and the suite was filled with the opening chords of the haunting Hallelujah.

What happened next was truly magical.

The young man at the piano closed his eyes and broke into the first verse. His voice cracked, not from puberty but from emotion, as he paid – and played – his tribute.

Now I’ve heard there was a secret chord
That David played, and it pleased the Lord

The quips from the back rows fell silent as the senior students stopped critiquing their colleagues’ performances. The toddlers complaining about an hour-long concert without one Wiggles or Elmo song were quiet and sipped at their juice boxes as they peered over their seats at the young man spotlighted in the dim light.

The fourth, the fifth
The minor fall, the major lift
The baffled king composing Hallelujah

The young man sang on, his eyes closed and his fingers feeling their way through the emotive bridge of Cohen’s classic. He paused as he arrived at the first line of the chorus and the fifty or so parents in the music suite joined him, their gusto picking up with each repetition.

Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelujah
Hallelu-u-u-u-u-u-u-u-jah

Creativity from thirty years ago came alive. The author had just died, but his song powered on in the chorused voices in that music suite. The song had outlived its author and his creation was again brought to life in the shadow of his death.

I thought back to the authors I’ve enjoyed over the years. Robert Ludlum. Charles Dickens. Mark Twain. George Orwell. Arthur C Clarke. Douglas Adams. Harper Lee. St. Paul. All gone, but I still enjoy their creativity today.

This is more than writing. When we finish our manuscript, we are leaving a legacy that will outlive us and be enjoyed by people who may not yet part of the human race.

That has blown my mind.

I’m not suggesting at all that any of us will write the bestsellers of Ludlum, the classics of Dickens, the satire of Adams or the perception of Orwell.  But when we’re long gone, someone will pick up our creativity and bring it to life. Even if it’s just a family member doing some research on your branch of the family tree and stumbling on your self-published work, your story will outlive you. It’s storytelling as it has been for generations, it’s just that today it appears on screen, in Microsoft Word or Scrivener.

That’s a special thing about what we do, and it’s important to remember, particularly in an age of fleeting tweets, half-thought-out posts and a tsunami of online information that sweeps away all the statements that came before it.

Talk is cheap, but your stories are invaluable. So write on.

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