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SMALL TOWN MUSINGS by MARA PURL

THE CAMBRIAN (Knight Ridder, The Tribune News, San Luis Obispo, California)
November 1, 2001

November 11 will be the two month anniversary of the world's most devastating terrorist attack. It will also be Veteran's Day, and America has a new war, with new vets, both here and abroad, to prove it.

Like most Americans, and many other world citizens, I've been struggling these past two months to rediscover the relevance of my life. It was sunny before, or at worst, partly cloudy. Now, a shadow has fallen across the sun. It's the smoke pluming toward satellites, rising from the stricken towers. It's the ash of time lines torn asunder raining the debris of lost lives into mine. I think, pray, and write about them, honoring them if I can.

And there, a crack in the black clouds lets in a little light again. Each of the people lost had a context—a family, a circle of friends, a personal internet touching many other lives. It's those lives—the lives of strangers who become friends—I write about in my story.

Milford-Haven began as a tribute—specifically, to Cambria, where I spent a summer performing at the Pewter Plough Playhouse long ago and became a permanent resident emotionally, if not physically; and a tribute generally, to small towns, which I see as the microcosm of the American Dream.

In my little fictitious town of Milford-Haven, the issues of the day foment: care of the environment is weighed in the balance with employment and competition; ancient grudges grind on their bearers till they surface and must be faced; romances bloom and transform natures; war heros grapple with losses and reach deep for the courage to love again. As the story continues to progress through (so far) five novels, themes emerge: being honest with oneself yields character transformation; forgiving old ills restores faith; facing challenges produces strength and foresight; humility opens hearts. As Cambria-native and NASA astro-physicist Laurance Doyle put it, my "books are about how to solve the problems of life."

For a while it seemed these were the issues of peace, and that my story was now dated, becoming overnight a comprehensive picture of how life used to be. And yet as I've gradually been able to return to work, I realize these stories may have increased in relevance. Now, more than ever, don't we need to cherish our way of life? Each time we have a triumph in business or in scientific discovery, haven't we added to the collective awareness by proving the impossible to be possible after all? Wouldn't we want this sense of freedom and opportunity to be available to anyone ready to cherish it? If we had world peace, isn't this what we'd be doing with it?

Perhaps, after all, my mission is intact and my work is laid out for me, because life in a small town is what it's all about.

(Mara Purl has been a frequent visitor to Cambria since 1984. Her radio drama Milford-Haven debuted in Cambria in 1987 and was broadcast on the BBC in 1992. The Milford-Haven Novels, with cover art by Cambria artist Ron Covert, are sold at the Cambria Book Company.)



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