I sat in the publisher’s brightly-lit office, fidgeting with my hands. First, I drummed my fingertips on the armrests of my chair. Then, I laid my palms on my book manuscript opened on the table before me. Finally, I folded my hands in my lap, as in prayer.
The senior editor informed me that, while she and her team thought the manuscript held promise, they wanted me to work with a local editor, a highly recommended woman my age. I jammed my hands into my pockets.
I had already been working on this book project for over three years. In that time, I’d written well over 300 pages only to streamline the manuscript with the help of a writing workshop, a professor and an editor. Now another editor? I remember thinking to myself, This had better go quickly.
Begrudgingly, I emailed April Williams. I sent the foreword because I figured the book was essentially finished. Maybe she could tweak it. In a couple of days, I received a returned document lit up with comments! After I recovered from the shock, I realized she was incredibly astute.
April eventually took her “cheerful purple pen” to every page. We worked together for six months and, far from resenting that time, I’m filled with gratitude for how she stuck to her promise to honor my words as if they were her own. She has helped me add depth and clarity with her insights about such things as narrative voice and thematic structure. She also focused on the tiniest details. (For instance, I had not known that “email” should be hyphenated in their style, while it isn’t in the Outlook’s.)
But more valuable to me than any edit, large or small, is that I gained a new friend.
The title of my book, “Gently Between the Words,” is from a line in Brian Doyle’s poem about his daughter. I have written a collection of essays and poems about growing up as a pastor’s kid and becoming a pastor with kids. The book is intimate — not in the romantic sense, but in the meaning of the original Latin root “to make known.”
Over the course of our work together, April began to make known details about her own life. Like me, she’s from North Carolina and has been married about the same length of time. She has children the same age as mine. She, too, wears the badges of food stains and rises from bed in the night in order to answer the cry of a sick or scared child. She knows local playgrounds like the back of her hand and what it’s like to have bills to pay, meals to prepare and every now and then try and grab a few moments alone with your spouse. And she also knows the messy grace of the church, its institutional faults and beautiful moments, such as a Nativity for Christmas … in July!
Of course, we book nerds talked literature. I introduced April to Brian Doyle, my favorite writer, and she clued me into the work of mystery novelist Louise Penny, as well as the book “Heavy” by Kiese Laymon. She and I did delve into the heavy subjects of race and gender, especially how we might raise our children to be socially conscious, empathetic and kind. She invited me into a brave space to examine and reconsider what I thought I knew.
Six months after I had first reached out to her with an email, April agreed to write her own foreword for my book. She wrote how, for her, “gently between the words” implies having “presence with perspective,” meaning to “appreciate the moment in the moment.”
Just the other week, April was telling me about her youngest trying to fit into a pair of the child’s old shoes. My friend gently explained to her daughter that she was now too big for those shoes! She’d grown! The little girl replied, “But Mommy, I can wear them when I’m a baby again.”
How do we find words to talk about the ache of human love? The intimate paradox that, even though we want our loved ones to grow, time passes so quickly? The editing of your life for depth and clarity is a sacred process, and having a friend to offer a presence with perspective is a gift.
with their ornery buttons
at the wrists,
do me no favors
getting out the door on time.
But they’re not as obstreperous
as the teeny clasp
on my tiny daughter’s dress,
which stubbornly resists
my fat-fingered grip.
Years from now,
how I shall miss
this struggle with fabric,
for time waits for no one,
no matter how quick.
ANDREW TAYLOR-TROUTMAN is pastor of Chapel in the Pines Presbyterian Church, a congregation in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, and has a certificate in narrative healthcare. His recent essays have been published online at Mockingbird and his poetry at Bearings. He and his wife, Ginny, have three children.