It’s rare for an editor to take on a project from a stranger and wind up with a new friend. It is rarer still to have this friend become a source of hope and light during the dark months of the Covid-19 pandemic. But that’s what happened when I was introduced to Patrick McKenna via email in December of 2019 and agreed to take on this project. And I believe any reader of A Few Things Before I Go will walk away with those benefits as well.
Patrick wrote this book in the final, grueling stages of ALS, a pitiless disease that, by the time we met, had robbed him of his ability to speak, to write and to type, but had clearly not diminished his wry sense of humor, sharp intelligence, warmth and opinionated world-view. Patrick is a man who knows what he wants, and right off the bat, he told me he aimed to create a “small, pamphlet-sized” book of business and life advice for his two almost-grown children, Anne and Jack. He would do this, he informed me, using the power of eye gaze technology, without touching a single key or lifting a pencil. I was intrigued, and a tad skeptical: Should a book from a dying man to his kids really be about business? I wondered. Shouldn’t it be more emotional? I was also a bit worried that the project would be depressing because, well, ALS.
Instead, I began to look forward to Patrick’s pages and his snappy emails with eager anticipation—his anecdotes about being a sometimes overconfident law student and young lawyer; the reflections on fatherhood and where he succeeded and fell short; the unabashed spirituality that ended up shaping his outlook (including an adolescent religious awakening of sorts that took place in a headshop in Schenectady, New York). With my urging, he also agreed to tap into some unexpected emotions, and talk about what it took to cope with, survive and even thrive after his life-changing diagnosis. And so, while Patrick does indeed dole out smart advice on everything from closing a deal to acing a presentation, this book is so much more than a business book. To my mind, A Few Things Before I Go is the ultimate lesson on how to live well and how to die well, with gratitude, honesty, and a clear-eyed perspective on what it means to be a good person. These pages are brimming with hope, humor and wise advice that will stay with his two children, his loved ones, and anyone else lucky enough to hold this slim volume in their hands.
Whenever I felt trapped and despairing during the spring and summer of 2020, unable to travel or see friends or hug or share a meal with those I love best because of the pandemic, I’d find myself thinking of Patrick, a man who was truly “locked down” yet who managed to lift me up. I know this book will lift readers, too, and give them a guide for living and loving and seizing the moment, whatever their situation or the state of their health. Because as Patrick demonstrates in every single line, the moment is truly all we have.
Paula Derrow July 13, 2020