Yesterday, the arrival of my copies of In the Shadow of the Wind signaled a rite of passage for me. My book, a glossy paperback with my name on the front and my photo on the back, is finally done. But my journey is far from complete. Will anybody want to read it? And if they do, will they treat it with favor? Perhaps I’ll never know, but the story is there, offered for anyone who might be struggling, who has experienced the tragic loss of a loved one far too soon in life. I feel a little arrogant to think that anyone would want to read a memoir of my life. After all, who am I? I’m just Ann, plain and ordinary.
Perhaps this describes the vast majority of us. Within our small circles of life, each of us makes our mark. We live. We love. And we die. Some of us complete the circle sooner than others. Some of us travel parts of the circle more than once. Most of us, sooner or later, will feel the pain of a loved one’s death and question what purpose remains in our empty lives. And we must find a way forward. Anticipating questions from friends who read the story, I offer answers in advance.
Q: How long does it take to write a book?
A: This one? Thirty years. In the Shadow of the Wind was a project begun decades ago, in another place and another time in my life. When events of life intervened, and my new life started, I put this project away and literally forgot about it. Without the detailed journals I wrote at the time the events occurred, it would have been impossible to write this memoir.
Q: Why did you decide to write it now?
A: In 2010, my father died suddenly after a heart attack. He had supported me during my earlier losses with unconditional love and encouragement. At his memorial service, I mentioned how much it meant to me when he endorsed my forty day retreat into the wilderness. Afterward, people wanted to know more about the retreat. It was like somebody from beyond tapped me on the shoulder to say, “It’s time. Write.” Perhaps it was a last gift from my father. Perhaps Craig himself had something to do with it. But at that moment, I knew my life had just changed. I would write again.
Q: A lot of the chapters in your memoir are very personal. How can you put such personal, private details out there for strangers to read?
A: I think a story like this has to be personal, or it will be very dull. Readers need to feel the emotions, to laugh and cry with the writer, in order for the writing to ring true. Yes, it’s personal. Some of it is so personal that I didn’t tell a soul about it when it happened. But I did tell my journal. And the story is about a different me, the young woman of three decades ago. As I worked with these words, I could feel what she felt, and think her thoughts, but it was almost like they belonged to somebody else. Perhaps the insulation of time, the passage of these decades, was necessary. I couldn’t have written it when the emotions were fresh. It was too painful.
Q: How do you know you’ve been called to write?
A: Just a feeling, I think. How does a pastor know he or she has been called to preach? There is a notion from within, a driving force you can’t ignore. And then there are some signs along the way.
I like to think the Great Spirit still speaks to us. The timing of events at two places in my life led me to believe that someone somewhere was sending me a message. When Craig and I lived through repeated crises, the arrival of Phoebe Dawn was a miracle. Timing was critical. She was born on March 2, 1984. We met her and brought her home on March 5, three days later. Before the end of March, Craig was in the hospital. Had she been an April baby, we’d never have met the precious child who gave Craig the inspiration and drive to fight for his life and gave me purpose to carry on after he was gone. I thought, and still do, she was a gift from God.
Q: And the second place when you felt a supernatural nudge?
A: That has to do with my efforts to record the story over the last four years. During the year following my father’s death, the very same pastor who had been with us through the loss of our babies, who had preached at their graveside services, came back into my life. He was sent to my current church. I felt it was a sign.
Additionally the year 2012 was the year I was pulling the story from my journals. Much of the tale takes place in 1984, a leap year. The year 2012 also was a leap year, the seventh leap year since 1984, and the very first year since then when the calendar days exactly meshed with the days of the week all year long. As I wrote, it was almost as if I was reliving that time twenty-eight years ago. Every event became vivid in my mind. Coincidence? Perhaps. But if so, a strange one I could never have foreseen.
Q: Where do you go from here?
A: I’m not sure. The books are printed. Once again, my shy nature balks at putting them out for strangers to read. But if someone wants a copy, they are available. Someday, there may be an e-version. That will be another adventure for me, a new learning experience.
Q: You’d just let the books sit in your closet?
A: I still find it a little bit hard to believe anyone would actually want to read it. I have been operating for the last four years under the premise that I was supposed to write the book. I was directed—ordered—to do it. I couldn’t stop if I wanted to. Somebody somewhere needed my story or would need it. When it was ready, they would be led to it somehow.
As I get older, I find fewer and fewer things that I am certain of. There are so many differences among us, so many opinions, so many arguments. But one thing I still firmly believe is that we are here to help each other. Whether neighbors in our home towns need assistance, or people in Bangladesh and the Maldives who are watching their homes disappear under a rising sea, we are called to help.
Other creatures might need help too. Perhaps a wild kitten has fallen between bales in a haystack, Monarch butterflies can’t find the milkweed they need to feed new generations, the birds on Midway Island strangle in human trash, or the arctic ice of the polar bears recedes further every summer. These fellow passengers on spaceship Earth also beg for assistance.
Or maybe it’s a mother, grieving for a lost child, or a young widow facing an uncertain future. If we’re not here to help, what are we doing here anyway? The needs are there. The opportunities to get involved are endless.
Q: Do you have any parting words?
A: My wish for each of you is that you will be able to meet the winds of your life head-on, and learn how to soar through troubled times.
For myself, I feel most satisfied when my days include time spent writing. I’ve already started a novel about a piano tuner who solves a mystery by uncovering clues hidden in various pianos she tunes. It’s received hearty endorsements from instructors at two writing workshops I attended this summer, and I’m excited to continue writing. I’ll have to step up my time table, however. I may not be around for another three decades—and I have more ideas hatching all the time.
Q: What about your memoir? What’s it really about?
A: A short summary of In the Shadow of the Wind: A Story of Love, Loss and Finding Life Again:
Following a series of tragic losses, thirty-year old Ann Darr struggles alone in a strange and frightening world. The young widow and bereaved mother retreats to the wilderness for comfort and healing. Planning to stay forty days, she sets up a solitary camp on the river bank of her family’s abandoned farm homestead. Marooned by rising flood waters after only a few days, she faces her own mortality.
There is life after loss. Through a sequence of extraordinary events, In the Shadow of the Wind tells how one ordinary woman learns to dance on the threshold of fear, to cherish every moment of life, and to believe in her inner resources to conquer adversity.
Q: Where can I find a copy of this book?
A: Right now, they are in my closet. If you are interested in purchasing a copy, either reply to this post or send me a private message on Facebook (Ann Fell, FHSU) to let me know how to reach you.