Go the Distance

It’s late in the evening at a dark and rather dingy pub. He sits on a bar stool at the front, tucked up close to the bar, but facing a small gathered audience of admirers. He’s just finished a rollicking good tale about his cousin and his uncle, and while the laughs are still quieting down someone calls out: “Whatever happened to your uncle and cousin?”

His eyes search the crowd, and then, in a southern drawl that is almost undoubtedly adopted just for the occasion given his Canadian heritage, he slowly says: “Son, I said I was telling a story about my uncle and my cousin. I never said it was true.”

There was a moment of silence and then more laughs, as he has truly had us all believing a rather fantastical familial tale.

Yesterday, at the age of 81, W.P. Kinsella, author of books like “Shoeless Joe”, which became the movie “Field of Dreams”, died at the age of 81. Reports say it was a physician-assisted death, and that sounds about right as the man I met both lived his life and wrote on his own terms.

I met Kinsella years ago in that bar, but I’d been an admirer long before. There are those who might be surprised at how I revere his work, given his tendency to write about topics like baseball and my general lack of knowledge of such things, but Kinsella didn’t write only about baseball. He wrote about life.

A few years ago when the Fort McMurray Public Library asked me to participate in their “Fort McMurray Reads” panel, the book I chose was “Shoeless Joe”. You see, I felt it wasn’t just the story of baseball or Iowa or a man who builds a baseball stadium in a cornfield; it was the story of the kind of plucky courage and tenacity that makes people believe they can achieve the impossible. I felt it was the perhaps the most compelling parallel I had ever found of the story of Fort McMurray and the people who live here. Fort McMurray was the kind of place where if we built it, they would come; and they have.

Yesterday we lost Canada’s Mark Twain, a storyteller like no other who had both the kindest smile and the most acerbic wit.  It is a loss indeed, and the world will be just a little bit quieter without that voice in it.

This morning I pulled a book off my shelves. I read the inscription and felt myself pulled back into the past, into a dingy pub and a late night chat with an author who had touched my soul.

“To Theresa,” it reads. “Go the distance. Bill Kinsella”

When he signed the book that night so many years ago, W.P. made me promise I would do what he wrote in the inscription. 

And so I have, and so I will.

Thank you, Bill. For everything.

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