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OriginStory

I’ve walked around most of my life believing I was meant for something. That I was destined to do something for all humankind. And the longer I went through life, the more that feeling kind of spoke to me. But I couldn’t figure it out. What I was meant for. What I was supposed to do, or be. So I lived life like a lot of us do. I found a job. I accumulated debt. I paid those bills. And then I got a better job. More bills. Higher debt. Rinse and repeat.

Through all of that time I always wrote, though. From a very young age I loved a good story. My mom used to bring us kids to the library, each of us would have a laundry basket, and we would stack those baskets full. Reading grew to writing, I would dream, or an idea would jump into my mind, and I would write it out. I would finish a story, then go outside and be the story.

For some reason, though, I never thought of writing as a real job. It was something I did because I loved creating these worlds and characters. I loved how my characters would act with each other. How they would band together to overcome their plight. How – when a great villain was rampaging through a story – a character would stand up and give everything they had to save others, to beat evil at its own game.

christopher cranford author origin

So I wrote, everywhere I went. Whatever I was doing. I did it because I loved the story. Reading and writing were great hobbies, great passions, but a real job was waking up early and coming home late. Working weekends and holidays. Work needed to be hard. It needed to be painful. Writing was just something I loved to do.

Of course, it took a long time to put the feeling of being meant for something with my love of writing. It’s weird how something so obvious now, was never obvious then. I jumped from job to job, multiple jobs to multiple jobs. I started out bailing hay, went to being a busboy, a plumber, to working in nuclear power in the United States Navy, to working as a service technician in a tire factory, to working in information technology. I gave up some things. Playing football. Playing rugby, other sports. Acting in plays. Vacations. I focused on improving what I did so that I could always pay the bills. The more bills I got, the harder I worked.

I started closing in on forty, and decided get a creative writing degree. Part of me wanted to see if it was something I was good at. Part of me wanted to go for my mother, who always pushed me to get my stories published. (But we all know mothers, right?) Part of me just wanted to try something different. And, I think, a part of me knew, deep down, that writing was something I needed to do. That I had something important inside of me, that I needed to get out.

My father died when I was ten. He and my mother were involved in a car accident with a drunk driver. I remember me, my younger brother and sister, all of us going to the hospital to see them. Not knowing what had happened, just knowing there had been an accident.

The first person we got to see was my mother. She was bundled up in a bed, wrapped up in blankets and I think casts, and she was crying and telling us what happened. When I think about it now, I still see her, and words scrolling across my mind like news headlines.

A drunk driver, driving the wrong way down a one-way street …
               All the cars ahead, swerving off the road …
                             leaving nowhere for my parents to turn …

What I remember from then always sticks with me. My father had steered their car so the impact would be on his side. The car, a big 1988 Mercury Cougar, all metal and an eight cylinder engine, crumpled in the crash. The engine pushed into the laps of my parents. And mom, telling us three that my father’s last words were asking about us. That he had passed away when they tried to move the engine off him.

I still imagine that moment from time to time. Not because it was sad, but because of what it meant. That day, and the days that followed, showed me a path to becoming something greater.

My mother’s leg and hip had been crushed. She stayed in the hospital a while. I can’t remember how long, I remember us three kids staying with other family members for a bit until my mother could be released. I remember her on crutches for a while, until she learned how to walk again.

It had been the drunk driver’s third DUI, he had no insurance. We lost our house, and fresh off the accident, on her own, my mother had to figure out how to live life with three kids and no degree. Today, as an adult, I imagine my mother must have been terrified. But at the time, as a kid, I never saw it. And as a kid – I just took everything in.

Everything that happened back then – to me – happened like it was being written by an old manual typewriter. Every action and emotion, every cry and scream and laugh, every action by every person, my parent’s families, my mother, my brother and sister, everything and everyone was pressed into me, events and emotions struck me with the clickety-clack precision of a stenographer.

I’m rambling a bit here. I wanted this story to be clear, but I’m trying to define a part of my life that defines me. In some way I’m still being defined, even as I type this. Still evolving. Where I wanted a clear message here, a brightly lit point of origin, what I am ending up with is more of a wandering journey. a longer path. The self-discovery continues, even as I write this. It’s a process that exists in us all, and if we dig into it, we continue to grow. Hopefully it makes sense to those who read this, that you all can see the road I’m trying to walk.

For me – this story will always be about my parents. It’s about a man who sacrificed himself for someone he loved. It’s about a woman who picked up the pieces of her life, who made herself stronger, and provided for those she loved. Sacrifices, large and small. Some of these events have left resonances in me that that will echo forever. Some memories come and go in flashes, at the oddest times.

The thing I know now, is from then on, I paid careful attention to everything around me. What happened then, with my parents, with the friends and family around, with my younger brother and sister, it’s all something I internalized and carried with me. Still carry with me. What it should mean, to be human in this world. How to be. To love. To care for others and put your needs second. To care for others and put their lives first.

All of that I learned, at the age of ten. And continue to learn, every moment of my life. I see it in the man my mother married. I see it in my friends and family. I see it and internalize it all.

Life is unfair, and it is unforgiving. There is a cost to living it that none of us can avoid. In that cost, when we are faced with the unfairness of everything around us, we get a chance to see what we are made of. What others are made of. And if we do things justly, passionately, with purpose, then we have a chance to imprint a legacy on others. To leave something behind. To make the world a slightly better place around us for the brief time we exist.

It’s this act – what we do in the face of injustice, tragedy, evil, that tells us who we are. Can we handle years of adversity and pain, and do it with patience, kindness, grace? Is there a great love in our life, one we would sacrifice our own lives for? Have we formed the kinds of bonds with others, where you know that you always have their backs, and they have yours? No matter what? Can we stand up to the darkness and say enough. Knowing that if we fall, the world will wash over our bodies, that time will forget us, that we will be erased from everything and everyone? That we will only exist as a resonance in the lives of another, as echoes, as little flashes of memories at the oddest times?

I think a great story encapsulates all that. For me, it’s part of life. That day of the car crash, from that moment I heard about it from my mother, when it was just me and my younger brother and sister in the hospital room, what I was going to write about was imprinted into every fiber of my being. It just took a few decades for me to realize it. That there was a moment in my life which shaped the way I perceived how we should live it, that created a belief in the type of person we should be. No matter the evils we face, large or small. No matter the cost.

“One either pursues one’s dreams or one’s memories, and it is an exceptional man who, once the compass has been set, can alter it even a point or two.”

Sean Russell, Compass of the Soul

And – now that I understand that about myself – I hope to help others have that same understanding. Have them feel, in my stories, those beliefs. That evils exists, and it wins. Life is unfair. People can be hurt, they can be taken from you at any moment. The amount of ways life can be unfair is infinite. Each one of us experiences it differently. People starve. They get sick and lose their jobs. They default on loans. They get mugged or assaulted or beaten.

But the good in us can handle whatever life throws at us. Even at our lowest moments. I’ve witnessed this many times in my life, often at the darkest times. I’ve been a part of helping others in their toughest moments. And, even more, I’ve been helped in mine. We can – together – overcome the worst that happens, in the times we need help the most. It may take one person to start it, but good endures. It reaches out and inspires.

My stories are fiction. But there’s a kernel of me in all of them, a kernel of truth that began to grow from that moment in the hospital room, with my mother crying and telling me about my father. From the way our family became tight together, survived together, and grew together. They may be fiction, but I write stories I want to live.

I hope people read what I write and walk away thinking about it. Maybe take something I’ve written and live their lives with a little more purpose, and a wider smile. To do the little things for each other, as well as the big. To live life in a way that inspires others to do the same. Not just in big ways, and not just in likes or thumb-ups on posts, but in ways that have real meaning. The little things, but also the hard things. Taking time out to call someone, instead of a text. Reach out to a friend you haven’t heard from in a while. Make the long drive to check on family, despite the traffic and the fact that you’ve got all this extra work to do this weekend.

I want to pass along, in times where we are distancing more and more from each other, where we are spreading out further and further over the internet and smartphones and platforms and pandemics, what it means to be really close to someone. To have a great love, and to be willing to give everything you are for them. To have great friends and family, and know what it means to be there, when they need it.

In all great stories, there should always be a moment where evil overwhelms everything. That’s life. But there should also be a moment where one person – through great sacrifice – can make a stand. Because ultimately, that’s to me what life is about. Finding people who make life worth living for. Worth dying for. And when push comes to shove, when the hammer strikes the anvil, to know what we are all made of, if we have to make that choice.

Life isn’t fair. Evil wins sometimes. And whether it wins or not, in the end, I want to be that gunslinger walking into a town of black-hatted bad guys. I want to be the pilot that has to take that one shot against the Death Star. I want to save galaxies, slay dragons, rescue princesses, take an impossible case, right a desperate wrong, and still have time to bring a murderer to my brand of justice. I want to steer that car so the impact hits on my side.

And if those moments never come along in my life, then dammit, I’m going to write about them. I’m going to write about them all.

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