A lesson of this day of William and Kate: The universal attraction of a love story

I have not yet seen video of the Royal Wedding, but many people have, apparently. I heard on NPR that about a third of the world’s population, in fact, tuned in. Wow. That’s a big crowd.

There are, of course, many reasons people want to watch such things: the sheer spectacle, the rarity of the event, the historical pageantry. But I’m certain that the irresistable draw of a simple love story is also part of it. I know: the story of William and Kate is not of the average couple. But beyond the royal trappings and media circus, all we really have here is a young women and man falling in love and pledging their lives to each other.

Everyone loves a love story.

That is why I was drawn to the story of Beverly Eckert. At the center of her heart, before and after that horrible day in September 2001, was the person she shared her life with, her partner, her soul mate, her one true love — Sean Rooney. Readers of No Truer Hearts will find out about what Beverly Eckert was like growing up in Buffalo, making a career in the insurance industry, and then living a new sort of life after 9/11 as one of the most effective family member activists. But through all of this they will also see how two people fell in love, made a comfortable and happy life together, and then said goodbye for the final time one clear, chaotic, unforgettable September day.


Laura Hillenbrand: A master at making a true story sing

Laura Hillenbrand, author of "Seabiscuit" and "Unbroken."

It is inspiring to watch a master at work. Here is sentence one in chapter one of Laura Hillenbrand’s wonderful rendering of the story of a horse, Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

Charles Howard had the feel of a gigantic onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way.

Boom. You’re hooked. One carefully crafted sentence leads you seamlessly into another. The end of one chapter has you at the end of a swing on a trapeze, your whole being eagerly reaching out for the beginning of the next chapter. Hillenbrand’s latest book is Unbroken: A World War II Story of Survival, Resilience and Redemption, and her style is just as vivid and compelling.

In the predawn darkness of August 26, 1929, in the back bedroom of a small house in Torrance, California, a twelve-year-old boy sat up in bed, listening.

The boy is Louis Zamperini, a mischievous child who becomes a world-class runner, an airman in World War II, and ultimately a survivor against incredible odds. Zamperini’s life story stands as a testament to courage and grit. But in Hillenbrand’s capable hands it becomes as well a work of art. This is what literary non-fiction is all about: the truth told beautifully.

Grete Waitz, RIP: A running life marked by grit, grace and generosity of spirit

Grete Waitz: world-champion runner, mentor, role model

It is almost impossible improve on real life. That is one of the reasons I find it so frustrating when people try to embellish it or flat out lie about it.

Here is a prime example of a story that cannot be improved upon: long-distance runner Grete Waitz, who left this beautiful world April 19. After reading about her inspiring accomplishments, my jaw dropped: “Wow!”

After years of dominating women’s distance running, she was contemplating retiring from the sport at the ripe old age of 25. But her husband encouraged her to enter the New York City Marathon in 1978. Grete Waitz’s longest race until then had been 12 miles.

According to her obit in the Washington Post:

Mrs. Waitz and her husband, who was her coach, treated the trip as a second honeymoon. The night before the marathon, they ate a four-course meal of shrimp cocktail, filet mignon, red wine and ice cream.

The next day, Mrs. Waitz set a blistering pace. She kept it up through all 26 miles and 385 yards, enduring dehydration, cramps and a level of screaming pain with which she had previously been unacquainted.

“I’ll never, never do this again!” she yelled at her husband as she crossed the finish line, blonde pigtails swaying.

But she had won the race in two hours and 32 minutes, shattering the world record by more than two minutes and inaugurating a new career as a marathoner and an international star.

“To be suddenly a hero on a world basis was hard for me to understand,” she later said. “God gave me a gift. I got the chance to use it. I felt uncomfortable with the credit.”

Humble, gracious, but tough — that was Grete Waitz. One of her training techniques? “I prefer to train in the dark, cold winter months when it takes a stern attitude to get out of bed before dawn and head out the door to below-freezing weather conditions,” she once told an interviewer. “Anyone can run on a nice, warm, brisk day.”

Update: A profile of Grete Waitz by a friend and fellow-runner.