Sometimes the unexpected shows up right in front of you, and as Matt Mikalatos discovered in the writing of Sky Lantern, where it takes you from there can be equally unexpected.
My Big Idea crashed in my front yard.
On a rainy day last November, I found a flattened, burnt-out sky lantern on my driveway. Scrawled across it in magic marker were the words, “Love you, Dad. Miss you so much. Steph.”
Those eight words stabbed me in the heart. I spent the rest of the day turning it over in my mind, thinking about my own three daughters. I found myself on the verge of tears several times that day, thinking of my own kids sending a letter after my death, not expecting a reply.
If my daughters sent a note like that, and some father found it, I would want him to do something.
But what could I do? It’s not like she wrote her email address on the lantern. I didn’t know her last name and “Steph who sent a sky lantern” wasn’t much to go on.
Nevertheless, late that night I pounded out a letter to Steph on my laptop. I didn’t expect it would find her, but I did my best to tell her all the things I suspect most fathers want their children to know. That she was loved. That he was proud of her. That he wanted her to live a good life.
It was a small act of kindness, but there wasn’t much chance she would see it. I thought, best case scenario, maybe someone would remember it one day and show it to my daughters when they needed it.
The next morning I woke to notes from all over the world, as the letter went viral.
For weeks I received emails from people sharing about their dads: good, terrible, absent, dead or dying. I cried every morning reading the stories of kids who had lost their parents when they were young, or moms who were keeping the letter for their kids, so they could have something “from their dad.” A woman in Germany told me she carries the letter in her purse. A woman in Malaysia sent me pictures of the mandala she painted when her dad passed.
It was beautiful and powerful, this reminder of how much we all have in common, and how much pain and loss there is in our world. I was reminded, too, of the beauty in sharing our pain with one another, in acknowledging to one another that all is not as we would like it in the world, and that we wish things could be different. To know we are not alone eased our grief. We are not alone in this. To acknowledge one another’s grief and to say to one another, “You are worthy of love” is a small act of kindness, but it makes an enormous difference.
That’s the Big Idea: Small acts of kindness can make the world better. Remembering we are all human, and thus worthy of love and respect, can bring transformative beauty into the world. The things we have in common as human beings are greater than the things that separate us.
As for writing the book, in many ways it was the hardest book I’ve ever written. It required being vulnerable in a way I hadn’t done before in print. I shared about loss, and grief, and love in the clearest, most honest terms I could and it was beautiful and painful and sometimes I couldn’t see the screen clearly as I typed. I felt completely wrung out when it was done.
Sky Lantern is the story of a small act of kindness. It’s about Steph, and how she found the letter and how we – people who are different in nearly every way it’s possible to be different – became good friends who care deeply about one another.
Writing Sky Lantern brought hope, love and joy into my life. I hope reading it will do the same for you!
Sky Lantern: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | IndieBound | Powell’s
Read an excerpt from the book. Visit the author’s website. Follow him on Twitter.
(P.S. from the author: “If people are in the Portland Oregon area, the Cedar Hills Crossing Powell’s is hosting an author signing on November 20th at 7 pm! Steph is going to fly out for it, also.”)