May 31, 2012

As news of Peter Sieruta’s sudden passing has spread across the internet, I have been struck by how much pure love is being shared–love for Peter, love for children’s books, and, in a way that Peter would have found delightful and perhaps surprising, love for one another.

Several people who never met Peter in person, upon learning that I had the privilege of meeting him at a recent book event, have asked me what he looked like. Others have commented on the fact that there are no photographs of him online (or maybe there is one from his early childhood), and asked his brother if he might post a picture. It’s an interesting question for his family to answer. I can see good arguments on either side.

As for what Peter might have wanted, I’ll share a brief moment: As he was leaving the bookstore that evening, I asked if he’d like to be in a picture (with me and several other authors). His response was an emphatic NO!!! (I heard it as, “I got myself here. I had a good time. Don’t push your luck.”) We laughed a bit about the intensity of his reply, and I teased him just a little, and wondered later if I shouldn’t have–it was clearly personal to him.

He described himself as very shy, but there’s something about that word that isn’t quite right. There was a deep and conscious choice, partly based on the difficulty (pain) he experienced in social interactions, but more to it than that–a positive side of keeping a social distance, protecting something of great value, and knowing you are doing that.

It’s clear that his qualities of intelligence, kindness, humor, caring, and thoughtfulness came through loud and clear in all his online interactions. We all have a lot to learn from him about expressing questions about a book, or anything else, with a dose of humility so genuine that the questions generate further conversation, and are not hurtful.

I will say a bit about what he looks like: someone you might pass in the aisles of a bookstore or sit beside on an airplane and never know how enriching a conversation with him might be. Brown hair, average height, above average weight, and–I think but I’m not sure–brown eyes. I’m not sure because it’s not the color I recall. It’s the dazzle of knowledge behind them, the quick decisions about how much of that knowledge to share, the delight in learning something new.

I wonder if he knew how beloved he was (and is). I think he probably did, but maybe he didn’t want us to know he knew.

Because then we might have been scared of him, and that would not have served him, or us, well.