How I know your writing matters

"What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, 

but what is woven into the lives of others."   Pericles

A while back I mentioned that I know there are people out there who need your story in ways you can never imagine. I said that one day I’d tell you how I came to believe that. 

Looks like today's that day! Here's what happened. Here's how I know for sure that your writing matters:


Once upon a time I wrote a poem for my father. I was an adult by then, with a family of my own.

The poem stirred with life during an afternoon my father and I were together on the banks of the Fraser River, the moment I realized with instant clarity that we were standing inside a metaphor. The quality of light shifted. The air felt different. I knew there was something there that needed to be written. 

My relationship with my father had always been tenuous. We were two puzzle pieces that never quite fit, no matter which way we turned ourselves. I hoped the poem would help him hear something that I could never speak. 

When I finally mailed it to him I was all nerves, holding my breath as I waited to hear how it would be received. My family members aren’t exactly the types who read poetry.


It was summer, and my father was working at a remote fishing lodge on the northern tip of Vancouver Island. It is a wild and densely forested place. A lonely place for people who like civilization; a refuge for people who want to escape it.

It was a busy time of year, relatively speaking, with three or four staff, the usual cycle of guests, and a couple of fishing guides rounding out the population.

The poem arrived at its destination. While I know my father appreciated it, whatever he specifically said has faded in my memory. What lingers is what happened after.

One evening he was sitting in the dining area of the big house chatting with the senior fishing guide. Jim was real backwoodsman. Lived up there all year around. Was known by pretty much everyone. Never went anywhere without a hunting knife strapped to his hip.


Maybe they were talking over a beer, maybe over a glass of scotch. Maybe they were just going over the plans for the next day. My father had a sudden proud papa moment, went and got the poem and said, “My daughter sent me this. She wrote it. I remember that day.” 

The way my father tells it, as Jim read he got real quiet. Too long quiet. Jim finally gathered his breath and said, “That’s real nice.” And when he handed the poem back, my father could see Jim’s eyes were glazed with wet. 

Turns out it was one of those nights that got a couple of guys talking about things. Turns out Jim had an estranged son, no relationship with him at all any more. And he wished things were different.


I had intended my words to speak to my father, but they spoke to Jim, too.


Life is unexpected.

And most times, so is death.


A year later, at the end of the day, the fishing boats all in and moored at the dock, Jim hadn’t been seen since he offered to clean and package the fish for the group he’d taken out. One of the other guides wandered down to the dock, took a peek in Jim’s boat as he passed. His holler tore the stillness, reached all the way up the hill to the big house, echoed over the inlet: “Man down! Man down!”



They were too late.



Heart attack.



Somehow, Jim’s son found out about the memorial the little community had organized, and came. 


And in the denouement of that day my father reached out. Told him about sitting with Jim that night, told him about his reaction to a poem. My poem. My father gave him a copy. Said, “This meant something to your dad. It made him think of you.”


My little poem.


In 2008 I submitted that poem to the CBC’s Alberta Anthology poetry contest, and it won. She Goes Home to Visit Her Father was produced and performed and aired on the radio later that year. I don’t know where the words flew after that.


Dear friend, this I know for sure: your words matter. They make a difference. They live, breathe, connect, transform, inspire, and create meaning for people. You must write them. And then you must release them into the world.


Someone out there needs your words in ways we can never know. Don’t keep her—or him, or them—waiting too long.


Να είσαι καλά. 
May you always be well,




Ever had an experience like this? Something unexpected that made you realize the words you had written had a life of their own? We'd love to hear about it. Share it with us in the comments below.

Lissa Cowan
2014-04-21 10:19:31

Beautifully written!! Thanks so much for sharing this story. How moving, and what an incredible testament to the power of words to transform our lives.

Stella Fournier
2014-04-19 13:47:08

What a beautiful story Suzanne! I haven't read the poem but your story about it touched my soul just the same!