Monday, 14 June 2021

G Guest Editorials

1, 2, 3 things you can say to the author of Forrest Gump...

and the 4th thing I shouldn’t have

By Rebecca Cooper

Rebecca Cooper is a graduate of Belmont University and a former teacher, business owner and career professional. Her new book, “Hey God? Yes Charles” (Turner Publishing), is a collection of scribbles on scraps of paper of captured conversations that she began to overhear between her husband and God after her husband’s sudden death.

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My name is Rebecca, which is a critical element of this tale. My husband Charles died unexpectedly in 2007 at the age of 58, on the Monday after Thanksgiving. During his 13 days in the ICU of an Atlanta hospital, hundreds, maybe thousands, of prayers were sent up on his behalf. When he died anyway, it seemed to me that all those prayers had been ignored. And when my sweet mother died four weeks later on Christmas Eve, I was sure of it. So I was done. Done praying. Done talking to God.

But somewhere in the middle of all that grief, maybe especially in the middle of it, it felt like I began to overhear conversations in heaven between Charles and God. I realize now how those conversations kept both of them in my life. But, at the time, I just felt compelled to scribble them down.

Over the next year or so I wound up with scraps of paper everywhere. I guess it just felt like therapy or a mess of a journal to me, but I mentioned it to some folks. They insisted I gather everything into some kind of book form so that my kids and grands could have it to read someday. That seemed like a good idea, and so I went looking for all those scraps of paper. Stuff was stuck in purses, and drawers, and closets, and in the car and it probably took me another year to find everything. I organized it all as best I could inside a big, black, ugly notebook. Over time, I made a few copies and shared them with close family and friends. Occasionally, I would hear from someone, asking to share my story with someone else who had suffered loss. And sometimes I’d hear from that person. It was gratifying and it was enough.

And it was still just my raw, personal story years later in 2014 when I returned home from a mission trip out of the country to an equally raw Tennessee winter. Early one morning, I was awakened by such an odd sound that I jumped out of bed – and immediately hit water. Like many other Nashvillians that January, I was victimized by so much damage from a burst pipe that I had to move out of my home while repairs were made.

My two cats and I moved into the Hyatt just up the road and became their newest, oldest residents. The little hotel was actually pretty cool, well run, friendly. And it didn’t take long before I knew most of the staff, and they knew me. One of the fun parts was the little gathering area for food and drink. When I looked halfway presentable, it was fun to sit there and visit with new guests and welcome them to Nashville. I met a lot of people during my 62-day stay.

One day though, I was running late and super tired. I’m an only child and had been wrangling my hilarious, ornery dad all day, about 50 miles away. By the time I got back to the Hyatt, all I wanted was to slide through the little counter back entrance, get my dinner to go, take it to my room, kick off my shoes, and catch up with my cats. I looked awful too. Just get me in, get me food, get me out.

As I eased up to the door, I realized another gal was standing there, waiting to grab and go. But there were also three guys sitting just past her at the counter and it was clear something was up. As I slid in behind her, she turned slightly toward me and I mouthed a quizzical “what?” Her reply was to sorta’ grin, sorta’ shrug, and then her food came and she made her escape. I stepped up and it was immediately clear. I was fresh meat. But for what?

The guy sitting in the middle of the three leaned up a bit, and asked my name. Sizing up the situation, I, of course, gave him the only possible response. “Tiffany,” I replied.

The other two guys started howling but my conversationalist was not deterred. “Okay, TIFFANY,” he said in measured tones, “Let me ask you a question.” I nodded to indicate gameness, but he was already proceeding.

“Who wrote “Forrest Gump”?”

While this might have been the last question in the universe I expected, I’m sure I smiled, so certain in that first second that I knew the answer – didn’t everybody? – but then, suddenly, “Uh, wow, gosh, I don’t know.”

“Exactly!” the stranger was triumphant. “No one knows. No one ever knows. These guys and I travel together a lot and we eat out a lot and I tell them, I am going to ask every server that question and if that server knows the answer, I’ll buy dinner. But I never have to buy dinner because nobody ever knows the answer.” And then he leaned up out of his chair, stuck out his hand, and said, “My name is Winston Groom. I wrote ‘Forrest Gump.’”

Now of course I was duly impressed (albeit planning to google him, you know, just to check) but before I could duly much, he harrumphed. “And that whole deal is the oddest thing to me. I have written many things in my life, works FAR more scholarly than “Forrest Gump.” But that’s the one everyone knows. And yet, nobody knows who wrote it.”

He took a breath so I jumped in, “I wrote a book once.” That startled him. “You did?” he looked doubtful. I continued. “I did. And it’s probably been read by maybe 15 people. But, that doesn’t matter, and who wrote it doesn’t matter. What matters is that, in some way, it helps whoever does read it.” And then he responded, and I think he meant it, “Well, hmmm, you might be right.”

With that, his buddies motioned about dinner reservations and the three made a move to leave. But first, I (of course) got one of them to take a photo of Winston and me. For me, and for verification. Turned out, yep, it was him.

Now, this was around March of 2014. Four months later, I received a message out of the blue from a publishing company. They had been sent a copy of my story in the big, ugly, black notebook, and they wanted to publish it. That was astounding to me, but they thought it would help people. When I remembered meeting Winston Groom, it was also astounding that a rookie author could have had such a chance conversation with a man of his stature. I would love to remind him of that conversation. And I would love to show you our picture, even as bad as I look, but only with his permission. To both those ends, I have tried to message the man. He’s not answering.

So here’s what I’ve learned about the things you say to the author of “Forrest Gump.”

One - I’m glad I told him I wrote a book. Two - I’m glad I calculated that how many people read a book only matters in relation to who needs help. Three - I’m glad I knew that the author is unimportant compared to that reader being helped by the message.

It might have been really cool in the publishing world if I could have claimed this conversation with Winston Groom. But, of course, he’s not going to reply to my message because of number four.

He thinks my name is Tiffany.      


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