After several semesters of graduate school creative writing classes, after writing short stories, essays, a play, a screenplay, and yes, even poetry, I consider myself a writer. But the time has come to tell my story, to write that magnum opus and show off my writing skills. But what will I write about?
It would be easy if we were gathered around a camp fire, and in the crackling of flames, you asked me to adlib a tale. I would shine a flashlight under my chin, and mesmerize you with descriptions of witches and murderers, and furry tailed critters, and you would laugh when the story was told. If we were in my car, traveling together for a few hours, and you were my captive audience, I would tell you of a spy mystery that lies right beneath your nose, just plausible enough to make you wonder, could it be so? I’ve seen your face, as I told you those stories. Your mouth hung open, and you asked if it was true while I enjoyed that fact that I had you, at least for a while, caught in my web like a fly.
But a Magnum Opus? Like the reserve bottle of wine that comes with that fancier label, how will I do it? Where will that story come from? It can’t be about me. My story’s more like swigging a jug of Wild Irish Rose, if in fact, they make that swill anymore.
So off I go to Africa, to the heart of a continent, which two years ago I would never have seen, for fear of Ebola, Tse-tse Flies, and a grenade here and there. But the stories are big in Africa. And I love Baroness Karin Blixen’s book. So, by a strange quirk of fate, or possibly by one of God’s practical jokes, I am traveling back to Burundi, one of the poorest places on the planet, to visit my beloved friends, bring some medical supplies, some clothing and computers, as well as sending ahead a lot of money. But what drives me, is to record my friends. Their stories are amazing.
The night before I left for Burundi, a group of us met me at the Tidewater to wish me a safe journey and have a few beers. I was rambling on about my search for a great story, and I told Danielle that I had my beginning: “I loved a little clinic in Africa.” Ok, it does sound a bit like Out of Africa, but wait a moment before you pass judgment, I do have a great ending. Somehow, I will help this little clinic become operational. I didn’t know how, after all, I am neither a doctor, nor a nurse. I am a creative writer. But I have the conviction of Scarlet O’Hara, so I thrust my drink into the sky, or at least toward the ceiling of the Tidewater, and railed to the heavens that, as God as my witness, I would help this clinic in any way I could. Danielle laughed. “You don’t need an ending. You will find your ending,” she said. “Just let it happen.”