So last Sunday night, I met Judy Blume.
I was at a reception for the NCTE ALAN conference along with a bunch of English teachers and writers, and I was as starstruck as I've ever been in my life when Judy Blume came up to me and extended her hand for me to shake.
Our conversation lasted probably less than 30 seconds, and she was incredibly kind and gracious with my fanboying. I got the sense that she might have preferred an actual conversation instead of me telling her how grateful I am for her work, but I figured I had one shot at this and if I didn't express my gratitude, I would probably regret it forever.
So I thanked her for her work and for being one of the people who essentially created YA literature as we now know it.
I walked away and felt this surge ofa particular emotion that I've only felt a couple of times in my life. And no disrespect to Judy Blume (ever!), but I realized that the other times I felt this way I was in the presence of inanimate objects.
That is Sara Carter's autoharp in the Country Music Hall of Fame. The Carter Family's music meant a great deal to me for a short and horrible period in my life (read all about it here!), and seeing an instrument that was used to make some of that music was pretty overwhelming. Here's the next one:
That's the bass that Paul Simenon was breaking in the London Calling cover photo. It's on display at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. London Calling is probably my favorite album ever, and I had that image hanging on my wall through all of my college years. Same deal: seeing it in person was a surprisingly emotional experience for me.
Now obviously Judy Blume is a person and not a musical instrument, and so I've been trying to figure out what it is that she has in common with these instruments.
Here's what I think it is: like the bass and the autoharp, before I met her in person, Judy Blume was pretty much an idea to me. She existed in the realm of legends. Seeing her in person was not moving because I was so close to a legend; it was because for me, there's something remarkable about seeing that someone who made legendary art is just a person like me. I mean, I knew this on an intellectual level, but apparently experiencing it is a very different thing. It's just like, yeah, I knew the Carter Family were playing instruments on those records, and I knew that was a real bass that Paul Simenon smashed, but that's a very different thing from seeing them right next to you.
Here's my takeaway: every single one of your icons and idols is fundamentally just a human being. Whatever it is that allows people to create something that moves you to your core is not a superpower; it's a thing that people can do. People like you and me.
This, I think, is what caused me to get all choked up on all of these occasions. We humans are capable of all kinds of horrors, and we almost always fall short of what we want to be and what others expect of us, but we all have the ability to tap into something transcendant.
And that is a fact that is so beautiful it literally almost made me cry.