There are things I never got to say to David Budbill while he was still alive. These messages must now be published posthumously. The Vermont author passed away early Sunday morning, ending his three year battle with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a rare form of Parkinson’s Disease. David wrote the words that I sang last year in the Erik Nielsen opera A Fleeting Animal, and his presence at rehearsals was always a joy. I got to say a few things to him here and there, but we were busy rehearing, and he was struggling with his disease. I think I told him that I liked his writing, but I don’t think I ever mentioned how much I really loved Bones on Black Spruce Mountain and Snowshoe Trek to Otter River when I was growing up. We read his books in school, and so to me he was something of a celebrity. I wish I had said this to him. But we were all busy.
As I read his obituary last night I noticed that he has a few more books coming out in the near future. “Published Posthumously,” the article said. And I started thinking. What will they find from me when I die? I have a few novels written, and many poems. I publish a lot of my other “stuff” right here when I feel like it (or when I run out of other ideas), but there is a large amount of creative work that I have never shown to anyone, or maybe just to one or two select folks back in college. I have songs and operas, short stories and librettos. Will they be published posthumously?
Ah look, my friend died and I am making it all about me. Good work, Tenor Dad. But funerals are for the living, and I can’t think of any better legacy for anyone to leave than to get people thinking about their own lives and souls. So I am thinking. I am meditating. I am contemplating. How do I feel about these things I have written being loved by the public after I am gone. Yeah, or hated, I know, but let’s pretend at least one thing I wrote was good. Just for fun. My initial thought was that I would be very happy to have people discover my writing after I have left this world. Because I am writing it to entertain people, and it really doesn’t matter when they read it, right? My second thought was that I would not be very anything, because I would be dead.
Certainly there are many schools of thought on this, and I think we have to admit that no one really knows what happens after we die, despite all of the TV movies that say otherwise. I take my cues from the Bible, but not usually in a super literal way, and I observe the world around me as I try to figure out the universe. It’s easier to rule out what you don’t believe sometimes than to home in on what you do, so let me just say that I don’t think life after death includes me floating around somewhere in a human body worrying about the cares of this world. I can’t imagine that a me-shaped force ghost will be smiling down on the millions of people tearing through my latest best seller, published posthumously.
So if I’m not going to care after I’m gone, then perhaps I should care more now. It’s nice to think that, as people dig through my old files, someone much smarter and better at things than me will publish, market, and perform my works. It lets me off the hook. It means I don’t have to do the hard work I am not good at, and leaves me to create. After all, being dead is pretty good excuse for not doing something. On the other hand, creating in a vacuum is not as much fun as being part of something vibrant and alive. I could see that in David as he watched us sing his words last September. He got to see a piece of himself shared with a community, with the world, and I could tell without even asking him how much it meant.
Thank you David. Thank you for not waiting to publish those books I loved when I was a kid. Thank you for not waiting to put on A Fleeting Animal, a work that means so much to so many. Thank you for your poems, your plays, and every piece of your soul that you shared with us. Thank you for your life. And thank you for kicking me in the butt and making me re-examine mine. We miss you already.