I was sitting on a plane the other day (something I do far more often than I’d like…14 trips this year! Yikes!), and a young man next to me asked me what I do. I’m always a bit hesitant to answer that, because, almost always, the response to “I work in publishing” is, “Wow. I’ve always wanted to write a book!” The ensuing conversation then centers on how I can help that person accomplish that goal. Still, he asked, so I answered, steeling myself for the inevitable response.
“Cool. So do you think publishing’s going to survive?”
I sat up in my seat and grinned. This was going to be fun. “What do you think?”
“Well, people have less money to spend. That’s for sure. And books are luxury items, right?”
I leaned back. “Let me ask you this. Why do you think people read books?”
Now he was grinning. “Okay…to be entertained. And educated.”
I waited. His grin broadened.
“To escape. You know, go places they can’t go in person.”
I angled a look at him. “Anything else?”
He pursed his lips and deep thoughts furrowed his brows until he finally shrugged. “Not that I can think of off the top of my head.”
Fibro was making my hip ache by then, but I didn’t really care. I just walked my feet up the wall in front of me (the main reason I always try to sit in the bulkhead), and nodded. “Let me tell you a story.” And I did. Told him about a woman who loved her mother with a depth and devotion that never faltered. Who counted both her parents among the rarest and greatest gifts God had given her. Then her mother developed diabetes.
“Ah.” He leaned back against the window, watching me. “My grandmother has diabetes.”
“It’s a terrible disease.”
The look in his eyes told me he understood. Far better than he’d ever wanted to. “Absolutely.”
The story continued to unfold as I related how the mother’s diabetes worsened and finally became life threatening. How this woman did everything she could to help her mother, including moving herself and her hubby across the states to live with her parents. How she went with her mother to doctors’ visits and, ultimately, the hospital. How her mother was scheduled for heart surgery that was supposed to give her a new lease on life, and instead left her weak and unable to come home. How her mother ended up in a nursing home for rehab. How rehab didn’t work. How the battle to save her mother’s life ended three months later when she, her father, and one of her brothers watched as the ICU nurse turned off the oxygen. Together she and her family wept, sang the songs her mother, and watched as the most precious woman God had used to grace their lives slipped the bonds of earth and entered eternity.
The young man’s face was damp. Only fair, since mine was soaked with the tears I hadn’t been able to restrain.
“She was your mom.”
A simple statement of fact. I turned to him. “After she died, guess where I went to find help.”
There was gentleness in his features, his tone. “The bookstore.”
“I needed to know others had experienced this depth of despair and survived. I needed to know–“
“–that you weren’t alone.” As though to affirm those words, several loud dings sounded. We were about to begin our descent into the airport. He shifted, securing his seatbelt, stowing his table, making sure his seat was in the full and upright position. We rested in a cocoon of silence for a few moments, then he nodded. “Publishing will make it.”
I held back a smile. “Oh?”
His arched brow told me he knew I was being coy. “We need books. They let us know we’re not alone. They comfort us and encourage us. They’re–“
“–our friends.” Now I was finishing his thought, and we both grinned.
He nodded. “Exactly.”
I liked this young man. Felt honored to have shared these hours with him. “You know what I’ve seen, lo these 51 years, 26 of which I’ve spent in publishing?”
“When things grow dark, when people are caught in fear and despair, they turn to reading for relief. For help. For guidance. Even for a momentary escape. Books will go on. They’ll always be there, in one format or another, to carry us through.”
The plane bounced and shimmied as the wheels hit the ground. Once the flight attendant finished her welcome to our destination, my seat companion drew in a satisfied breath. “That’s a good thing.” Another smile. “In fact, it’s a very good thing.”
Again, the plane seemed to sing its agreement with a series of dings, letting us know we could gather our things. We stood, pulled our sundry items from the bins, and shifted into the line waiting to exit.
I looked over my shoulder. “Yes?”
“Thanks. For talking. And keep doing what you’re doing, okay? It matters.”
“Tell you what, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing if you keep reading and thinking and sharing your wonderful insights with people.” The line started forward. “Deal?”
A hand rested for a moment on my shoulder and gave it a squeeze. “You got it.”
Once in the terminal, he tossed me a wave and went on his way, leaving me the richer for that encounter–and more determined than ever to do my part to keep publishing on track and strong. Because here’s the truth, folks: Publishing will survive. And thrive. Because people write from their hearts, share from the soul, and speak Truth into the void. As long as writers write, readers read, and God chooses to use books to change lives, publishing will be just fine. It may change, it may even falter from time to time, but it will survive.
And that, my friends, is a very good thing.