A year later, TSWGO continues to sell quite well and bookstores and libraries everywhere know it by name. Last week, I stopped in at a store I don’t get to very often. I ordered something and as the clerk took down my info and began adding my email address she suddenly stopped and said, “THE Wayne and Lori Earl –Esther’s parents?!” And then we were both crying and hugging as if we had been old friends, now reunited after a long absence. She held up her ‘Esther wristband’ (which I hadn’t noticed) and told me the tale of her own cancer diagnosis and the comfort this book had given her during her recent treatment. This 21 year-old, a moment ago a stranger and now a friend, had drawn courage from our Star.
In 2014, we went to the premiere of The Fault in Our Stars and won the Goodreads Choice Award for Best Autobiography and Memoir and we signed a bunch of autographs, spoke in DC, Alabama, California, Florida and Wisconsin and just about everywhere online. We heard from readers in places like Spain and Turkey, Russia and France who’ve been moved to Increase Awesome because of her and we wondered when we’d hear about the first baby to be named after her. (We met a college professor last fall who was several months pregnant but still unsure as to what to name her baby. She emailed recently to say that she'd had a boy and that from the moment she met us she had decided to name her baby, Abraham were she to have a boy. So Abe gets the name thing going long before his more famous sister, but I’m betting that Esther Grace will surely rebound.)
It has been 54 months since she left us; four and half years and still we remain focused on trying to love one another and others in a way that was so easy for her. I tell her readers that she really was like all that. It is surreal that she remains suspended in time (like all the dead who leave too soon) and this has created a certain kind of persona to be sure. Still, all who knew her here, see her true self there, in such a constructed postself. And that's remarkable. She really was kind and earnest and interested in so many things and especially in people and in decreasing world suck. We continue to draw strength from her example and are grateful to share her message of wonder and welcome wherever the invitations take us, invited or unexpected. That’s a pretty good legacy for anyone.
The best thing any of us can leave behind is a life well lived. That’s not news to my readers! But I am convinced that the best-lived lives assume a good character –not a perfection, but an aspiration toward such goodness. After Esther died, Abby left to California to continue the journey of becoming her true self and then our Evangeline went north to Vermont to seek aid in becoming the kind of person she must be. And just tonight, a full year after the book launch, Evangeline landed in Israel for a semester abroad at Tel Aviv University! I told her to say yes to the adventure and gulp it all up. After all, she’s just 23 and gets a hall pass to explore new worlds and breathe in new foods and friends, bleeding and laughing with them, aware that the memory of sorrow and any experience of joy are part of the same mystery. (“Thou art illusion Youth! This dangerous and beautiful age, full of boasting, at best a kind of Snapchat of the thing we call living. But so be it then. Live there as fully as thou canst for old age will surely come and memories be the material soul that remains.”) At 23, I had graduated from college, taking with me a deep grief and hopeful wonder for all I was leaving behind and for all that was yet to be discovered. At 23, next to a hotel pool outside our nation’s holy of holies (Disneyland), I asked my best friend to marry me! (I would have asked even if the answer had been no -but she said yes! and my life has been the easier for it though her life probably harder, yet richer, too.)
One year later, we’re still okay, Star. Because of your book I can see your face most anywhere I go. And sometimes I pick it up and hold it close. But you are closer to my heart than any image. I knew such goodness! I know it still. I have taken on some of the life you lived and now attempt to put it into my conclusion in plain view of any and all passers-by, this final thought from THE Wayne Earl: Abandon yourself to Love and true abundance will be the reward for those who understand that any bounty cannot be hoarded but rather, must be gifted for all. If you live this way, contentment and wisdom will be obliged to sometimes lead, but always follow you, all the days of your life.