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Good Grief: Escape to Golf

I grew up reading and found comfort in books. When I was young, my mother would hand me classics like The Great Gatsby, The Count of Montecristo, The Old Man and the Sea, Of Mice and Men and Huckleberry Finn. When older, I read Lonesome Dove, The God Father, The Lord of the Rings, To Kill a Mockingbird, and A Prayer for Owen Meany. I met wonderful characters within those novel pages, characters like Jay Gatsby and Edmond Dantes, Scout Finch and Santiago, Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, Don Corleone, Augustus Call and Frodo Baggins, and my life was richer for it.

Now, as a novelist, I receive emails from people struggling through the Covid-19 virus that has shrunk their world, often to the confines of their home. They cannot travel; cannot visit friends and family; cannot dine out or work out. They write to tell me they are finding an escape within the pages of my novels and in characters like Tracy Crosswhite in My Sister’s Grave, Sam Hill in The Extraordinary Life of Sam Hell, and Charles Jenkins in The Eighth Sister.

It made me think of something Samwise Gangee said to Mr. Frodo in The Lord of the Rings; Sam’s likening the darkness of his time to books. “It's like the great stories, Mr. Frodo,” Sam says. “The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were, and sometimes you didn't want to know the end because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad has happened? But in the end, it's only a passing thing this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come, and when the sun shines, it'll shine out the clearer.”  

This year has not been easy, not for any of us.

But I take solace in JRR Tolkien’s words and I do believe a new day will dawn and from the darkness a light will burn all the brighter.

In February 2016 I suffered a stroke celebrating my wife’s 50th birthday, but the doctor’s found a heart valve that did not shut at birth and fixed it. In 2019 degenerative arthritis forced me to give up running, but doctors gave me a new hip and I found golf. With no place to travel, my wife and I have found solace and escape and exercise at the Glendale Country Club here in Bellevue, Washington.  

It sounds crazy to say that golf, the sport Robyn Williams so elegantly defined as trying to hit a wee-little ball into a gopher hole with a stick, can bring peace and comfort, but it’s not really about golf. It is about being outdoors. More times than I can count, and often after the course has devoured another of my golf balls, I’ll pause to  marvel at the beauty around me - the green fairways, the trees and the creek, the geese gathered on the 18th green, the eagle and the hawk nesting in the summer, and I’ll say to one of my golf buddies, “This is the best thing I’ve ever done.”

As many days as my work will allow, and even days when it will not, I grab a pushcart and walk the 6,568 yards, nearly four miles. I find comfort in the exercise, in the beauty, and in the peace. And when I hit that rare good shot - when the club head strikes the little white ball perfectly and it arcs majestically against the pale blue sky and lands softly near the pin, I think of Gandolph the Gray and his wisdom that none of us gets to decide the times we live in. “All we must decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

Covid-19 will pass. 2020 will end, and someday, when I am older and grayer, I’ll read stories at night to my grand-children, stories filled with darkness and danger but also with light and hope. And I will tell them not to worry, and not to be afraid because we will reach the end of the story, and we will learn that everyone really can live happily ever after.