About thirty years ago, Father A. took a college fiction-writing course. It was not a great experience -- the teacher never forgave us for reminding her, at the first meeting, that barbaros was Greek rather than Latin. (Thin-skinned old biddy.) But admission to the course had been competitive, and so some of the student writing was pretty good. We still remember, with pleasure, short stories by Sieneh Wold and Lisa Radulovic.
And, of course, David Relin.
Three decades later, we have no idea what Sieneh and Lisa are up to. Our own writing is largely restricted to a weekly devotional essay on an assigned text (although we have five or six novels in a trunk somewhere). But David -- ah, now, David was the hometown boy who made good.
For many years, he worked his ass off at Scholastic, which may not be the most glamorous publishing house in the world, but it is big and busy and it let him become a professional writer. For people like us, that is what being an astronaut or an NBA center might be to somebody else.
Then came his big break. We were in Romania when a church member brought us a copy of Three Cups of Tea, the inspiring memoir by mountaineer Greg Mortenson, and we burst out with delight when we saw David's name as the fully-credited co-author. Okay, delight and envy. Lots of envy, because priesthood has not made us as selfless as you might like to think. Our envy deepened as we learned that the book had become a tremendous success, not just financially but also as inspiration to people trying to do good works.
Then, of course, came the news that Mortenson had made up some of his stories and embellished others. It was quite a scandal, and of course his co-writer got sucked into it. There was a class-action suit brought on behalf of readers claiming fraud, and -- beyond that, or so we imagine -- the shame of having your most important work so far held up in public as a lie.
A few weeks ago, we had supper with another classmate, who had been out west to visit David. "I'm worried about the Chief," he said, using an old college nickname. "This thing is hitting him pretty hard."
Not long after that, David Relin stepped in front of a train and died. It has been ruled a suicide.
We're in shock right now. Please keep David in your prayers.