The truism among writers is that if your writing touches “just one life” then it’s all worthwhile. I question that: I’d like to touch more than just one life, but I’ve heard from individuals who have read Emily Rose’s story that they’ve been changed or made decisions because of her story. And there was one baby named after a character in Seven Archangels: Annihilation and one baby nearly named after a character in The Guardian. I would count that as changing someone’s life.
On Monday or Tuesday night (I forget which) I came across a post in my parenting board. A woman there had a friend whose son had been rejected from his top choice college, and she wanted someone to help edit an appeal letter. The poster was warned that appeal letters never work, and she said, “But at least he has to try.”
I think she wanted proofreading, but I got one look at this letter and went to work on it. I’d been editing letters at QueryTracker for the past few days anyhow, and I slipped into that mode.
I put it in business letter format. I found the name of the director of admissions and directed it to him rather than “Dear Admissions”. I reworked the letter. I suggested deleting certain parts and emphasizing others.
Mostly, I tried to turn the letter into more of a story than it was, to give it a shape. The story was already there, but I tried to make it so everything but the happy ending (“and then he got into the college of his choice”) was in place, and then they could fill it with “Of course you can come to our fine institution.”
The upshot? We don’t know what version of the letter he used, but the admissions board reversed their decision, and he was admitted.
Did I have anything to do with that? Obviously his grades and such were the key. But did I help? And if the answer is yes, then this is how we “change just one life,” one at a time.
How does it balance? Because I’ve been blessed with things I could never possibly deserve, say, ten million units of “good” in that I was given the inclination to write, and I was given an education, and I live in the internet age, and so on. I used, maybe, one unit of good to help this kid. It couldn’t have taken more than twenty minutes. But for him it’s four years in college, and with that he’s received his own million units of “good.” If I was a part of this windfall, it happened not because I did anything extraordinary, because I didn’t. It was just something I could do. God put us together, and I’m in awe.
The woman who passed the message along didn’t have to help, either. We were all in a chain to help this young man, and maybe it was God or Fate, to help spread the blessings around. But it’s very good, and I’m so glad for this guy, now college-bound.