Edward Rosenthal was rescued yesterday after six days lost alone without food or water in the desert of Joshua Tree National Park. All he had was a pen and his hat. So while rescue crews used helicopters, horses, and dogs to search for him, Edward sat down and wrote his funeral plans—just in case.
He chose food he wanted served at his wake (Persian) and the original poems he wanted read at the service, and he finished his plans for the life he had already begun. He started on the brim of the hat, working all around, filling every micrometer of space he had left to set down the final thoughts he had to share with those he loved.
This is how a writer prepares—for death and for life. We walk around with only a pen for protection, and hopefully, we use it well. As history records, it can be a mighty weapon (think of Lincoln and King), leaving messages that will be remembered and acted upon generations after they were written. All artists—writers, musicians, painters—do what they do because somewhere inside, it is who they are. And it is the only thing we can carry with us wherever we go, right to the end of our journey.
So Ed’s pen kept him alive and thinking for six days. Maybe he panicked, but some of the time he was at least lucid enough to look at his life and map out a few final plans. He told his wife and daughter how he loved them, and how they should carry on without him.
And as he sat in the blistering heat, writing for his life, Edward Rosenthal was found—I’d like to think, with pen in hand. Somewhere in his hat is the note, “there is always hope,” which he can read all the many days he has left. And his family has not only the joy of his return, but the messages of love he might never have sent them if he didn’t get lost in the woods with only a pen.
All stories come with a lesson, and this one has two: 1) Write as if it’s your last day on Earth, and 2) You can lose your way, but never lose your hat.