My flight from Atlanta to Washington’s Dulles International Airport was taxiing to the gate as I reached for my phone to turn it on. I had a long layover before boarding my next flight to France. I figured I could check my email and find out if anyone needed me while in the air. My phone finally cycled-on and text messages and emails began to come through. A subject line appeared: “Sad News.” I opened the email and the first lines read: “Dear Friends of George, It is with a heavy heart that we send the news that George passed away this morning.” It took a moment for the news to sink in, but it still didn’t seem real. George Heiring passed away, Tuesday, July 20, 2021. His memory will always be a blessing.
Last year, George asked me to assist him in submitting his latest book, When Do the Lions Eat?, to various writing contests. Of course, I was happy to help. Who could resist working with George, and on a project so important to him as WDTLE? (That’s how we referred to it in our various email exchanges.) George lit up when talking about his “wild and wacky world misadventures and encounters.”
When I finished my first reading of WDTLE?, George asked which story was my favorite. I knew with George, the old, “every story is great!” line wasn’t going to do. And truthfully, one story stood out to me: an adventure in Sossusvlei, Namibia in 2012 when George rescued his wife, Donna, from “strangulation by mosquito netting.” Hair rollers were later implicated for the crime. At home alone reading George’s book, I literary laughed out loud. I could see the scene playing out and knew Donna wasn’t the only one who’d share this fate if I ever slept under mosquito netting. George had the ability to write scenes that come alive!
Upon sharing this with him, he sighed and took a long pause. “What about Chapter 11?” he asked, “Exquisite Ruins and Scattered Breadcrumbs, in Bantreay Srei, Cambodia.” I flipped back through my copy of WDTLE?. “It’s a good story,” I said, “I’ve always wanted to travel to Angkor Wat, and now I’ll add the temple at Bantreay Srei to my bucket list as well.”
“You didn’t cry?” George asked, confused. “Most women cry when they read this story or at least tell me it was one of the best written because of the emotion it elicits from the reader.”
“I didn’t cry...” I said, as I scrambled to re-read, or at least skim, the pages of the two stories. My voice trailed off until I could remember why I should’ve cried. Finding the stories about the Khmer Rouge, I finished my thought, “… it was sad, but I really don’t know much more about it. It was a tragic human rights violation, and I am surprised it’s not better remembered, at least not by my generation.” I stammered along, trying to find a way to not sound so uninformed. “I guess I don’t process emotions like a lot of women,” I said to George. “I believe the story made some women cry, just not me. I feel things like hot or cold, or hungry versus satiated. But happy, sad, or angry are some emotions that I sometimes feel?” I said as if it were a question.
George, knowing I was floundering, began to laugh wildly. When his flurry of laughter finally gave way, he spoke. “Melissa,” he said with directness and clarity, “that is one of the funniest things I have ever heard someone say. I will remember that forever, and it will probably appear in one of my next stories.”
In writing this, I know I did not get to the punchline as well as George would have, but it was one of the last laughs we shared together. George, if you’re looking down on us, as I like to think you are, then you know when “Amazing Grace” was sung at your memorial last week, you finally made me cry.