In the spring of 2002, my son Brad and I had dinner with Steven Pressfield and then shared a beer with him at his house. He’s a good man, Steve Pressfield is. As we chatted in his sitting room, I asked him if he understands and recognizes when he writes something very special.
“I don’t really think about it,” he answered.
I smiled and then pulled a copy of Gates of Fire from his bookcase and read,
'Nothing fires the warrior's heart ....
“Nothing fires the warrior’s heart more with courage than to find himself and his comrades at the point of annihilation, at the brink of being routed and overrun, and then to dredge not merely from one’s own bowels or guts but from one’s own discipline and training the presence of mind not to panic, not to yield to the possession of despair, but instead to complete those homely acts of order which Dienekes had ever declared the supreme accomplishment of the warrior: to perform the commonplace under far-from commonplace conditions. Not only to achieve this for oneself alone, as Achilles or the solo champions of yore, but to do it as part of a unit, to feel about oneself one’s brothers-in-arms, in an instance like this of chaos and disorder, comrades whom one doesn’t even know, with whom one has never trained; to feel them filling the spaces alongside him, from spear side and shield side, fore and rear, to behold one’s comrades likewise rallying, not in a frenzy of mad possession-driven abandon, but with order and self-composure, each man knowing his role and rising to it, drawing strength from him as he draws it from then; the warrior in these moments finds himself lifted as if by the hand of a god. He cannot tell where his being leaves off and that of the comrade beside him begins. In that moment the phalanx forms a unity so dense and all-divining that it performs not merely at the level of a machine or engine of war but, surpassing that, to the state of a single organism, a beast of one blood and heart.”
“I wrote that?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye.
I pointed to the passage on page 259 of the hard cover edition and showed him.
He smiled and said, “Wow. I guess I did. That’s not bad!”
That, Steve, is an understatement …
Six years later, I began work on my second novel, The Hamsa, which I refer to as ‘a Holocaust story.’ The Hamsa was published late 2010.
Last month, I befriended a wonderful woman from Chicago. Her name is Teresa. We met through Teresa’s interest in The Hamsa. You see, her parents lived in Zakopane, Poland, the home of The Hamsa protagonist Bronisław Czech. Teresa happened to be staying at the Desert House of Prayer, a retreat house visited by truth seekers from all over the world. The Desert House is ‘across the street’ from the Redemptorist Center I regularly frequent and only about three miles from my home in the desert.
I chatted with her soon after she had started reading the book. “The very first sentence brought me to tears,” she said in her enthusiastic way. “I’m telling you it brought me to tears.” I wrote the first sentence of the book – excluding the prologue – in Polish. Teresa obviously knew what it said, even though I repeated the sentence in the first few pages in German, Norwegian, French and finally English.
One year ago on March 5, 2014, we posted an article “When Readers Get It!” Teresa definitely ‘got it.’
Teresa returned to ‘the real world’ yesterday, but left a note at the Redemptorist Center addressed to “E.S. Kraay.” I read the note in the dim, early morning light of the chapel. Teresa definitely ‘got it.’
“I cried as I read the first sentence,” she wrote, “and I cried when I read the last sentence.”
She continued with a lengthy list of “SOME EXAMPLES OF WHY I ENJOYED READING THE HAMSA.” She noted passages that touched her spirituality – “Move over Meister Eckhart” she wrote – and she noted passages that put her into a reflective mood. She concluded with examples that made her laugh out loud.
Teresa identified each passage with the page number in the book.
I shared the note with Marie when I returned home. I read aloud each passage that Teresa noted (from page 250 for example)
“Light snow falls like God’s tears from the black sky. He rues what happens here but denies free will to no one.”
I will admit, after each passage I looked up at my wife and said, “Wow! I wrote that? I guess I did.”
Even as I plunge forward with my new manuscript — my seventh novel — it is important to look back at its predecessors. The note from Teresa with such specific examples gives me pause to reflect and say, “You know what? I think that was a pretty good story.” Thanks to Teresa and so many others who take the time to comment and send emails with encouragement. It is the greatest, professional satisfaction I get.