Give your friends books if you believe they need their message. Sometimes they will change their lives.
Brandon Sanderson, my favorite author in the world, came to visit Israel in 2019, and ten lucky contestants received the opportunity to dine with him while he was here. My friend, Amit, was one of them.
Brandon Sanderson changed Amit’s life through the fabulous books of “The Stormlight Archive.” He was in a terrible place before he read them.
Amit got himself seriously hurt when a terrorist came to attack Har Adar — a settlement near Jerusalem, Israel — almost four years ago.
We were pen pals before then. We had never met in real life, but we had talked about Writing and Fantasy on several occasions. After meeting on Facebook in January 2017, I helped him spread the word about a crowdfunding project he started for his fantasy book in Israel. He failed it.
His financial situation wasn’t great enough to start again, and we moved on. We both kept writing our own stories, and we showed them to each other, but we hadn’t mentioned getting his book published again.
That book (and the two that follow it) was written during a very harsh Army service Amit went through. An explosion put him in the hospital for several months in his early twenties. A decade went by, and now he was defending the settlement where he lived, but he wasn’t in the army any longer.
We became very good friends since meeting online and were talking about almost anything with each other. The anonymity of not meeting in real life allowed me, ironically, to be more open with him than with my close friends.
Fast forward to September 26th, 2017. A radio broadcast let me know that a severe terrorist attack happened near Amit’s house at Har Adar. He wasn’t answering my phone calls, and some mutual friends — also fantasy writers — we met along the way tried to communicate with his wife to know if he was involved.
I couldn’t work. I was looking at the phone every 5 minutes, imagining Amit on an ambulance bed. In hindsight, maybe it was more than my imagination. They say close friends feel each other when they are hurt.
I had a gut feeling that something was wrong. I couldn’t shake it. Only hours later, one of my friends confirmed he was shot and sent to the hospital after he took out the attacker. That friend also offered to take me to see him in the hospital.
I had just started working in a new company at the time. I wasn’t even ten days there, and I was mulling over how to tell my boss that I had tickets to a month-long vacation two and a half months in the future to visit family in California. But I couldn’t shake the feeling that I needed to see Amit. And so, the following day, I left at 2 PM right into the car of that writer friend I also met for the first time in real life — because of Amit.
We drove about 2 hours to the hospital from upper Israel into Jerusalem’s area. Quite an awkward amount of time to spend with someone you just met in real life. However, we were chatting quite a bit on Whatsapp daily, so we built on those conversations and enjoyed the ride.
We arrived at the hospital, and there I met Amit for the first time. He looked broken in every sense of the word.
Amit was happy to see many of his friends come to visit him. I will never forget how he was covered in bruises and looked genuinely hurt. He lost two friends to that terrorist attack. Two friends that still haunt his dreams to this day. But at the moment he smiled and was happy. We probably took his mind off of the pain, and he was heavily medicated with painkillers. When I went home to Tel Aviv that night, I thought maybe life would continue for him as they had after he recovered.
The following days and weeks and months revealed how wrong and naive I was. Amit’s situation didn’t get better. His body may have been healing, but his mind was darkening more and more.
When I asked him if he was writing, he said he would never write again.
When I asked how he was, he said he was thinking about the worst.
When I tried to listen, he didn’t want to share.
I felt helpless. How can I be there for my friend if he wouldn’t let me listen? It seemed, at the time, that his little daughter was all that was keeping him sane.
Then, some months afterward, I found out he was about to divorce his wife.
It broke my heart. I felt Amit was slipping away and away into a disaster, and I decided to do something about it.
While all of this was happening, I got into The Stormlight Archive deep after I had finished the original Mistborn trilogy. Those books changed me. I cried like a baby at some of the things I read in them. At other times I felt extreme joy, anger, understanding, and enlightenment. When a book does that to you, makes you feel this way, and affect your emotional stability, it’s wonderful. It just shows how powerful it is.
I decided to introduce Amit to Kaladin. Kaladin is a character that had lots of shit thrown at him, but he pulled through. He is a depressed, broken character trying to make it better. I wanted Amit to follow his story. To be inspired, if he was still capable of it.
And so, behind Amit’s back, I talked with a good friend to get his exact home address. When I finally got the address a day or two later, I ordered a gift from Amazon of all three Stormlight Archive books and an additional book with some side-stories happening between them to Amit’s house.
I thought it would make him happy. Instead, he was confused.
I didn’t care about the money. What is money in the face of saving someone’s life? I was still worried, though. Have I made a mistake?
Amit’s body was still experiencing trauma, and he had difficulty reading or concentrating on anything. So both his friend — who became my friend too — and I had decided to encourage Amit to read, even a bit every time he could manage it. It took a while, and he was slowly making his way through the first book. It was frustrating for him that he couldn’t read as much as he wanted before feeling fatigued. It took several months to finish the first book.
He was still getting better and better. One day, I got a message from him that he finished the first book and moved on to the second.
It was the start of growth. I was hoping it would come sometime. It finally did and a smile formed on my face. Finally!
Amit’s hype increased every day. He loved those books. He read them and then started using audiobooks when he realized that it was better to listen than read them for him.
I was so happy to see he got back on track. His family did not remain unscathed. Not everything in life is perfect. At least Amit can move on now. Things would never be the same as before, but I felt he could finally move towards the future. It didn’t matter that he was progressing in short steps because the next step is always the most important one, as Brandon taught us.
I felt for the first time in my life that I had done something remarkable. I affected someone’s very life by doing a simple act of kindness. I cared. It felt incredible.
I’m not someone to brag for doing good deeds, but today I cried tears of joy.
A dinner with Brandon preceded his visit to Icon Festival in Tel Aviv. Ten contestants whose stories touched the judges got invitations.
Amit, now an avid fan of Brandon’s work, wrote a short story and entered the contest. The judges announced Amit as the ninth winner, and I recorded the announcement and the short phone call with him on my phone. I saw the whole thing on a Facebook live post.
It felt like the culmination of an adventure. Finally, Amit will meet the author who changed his life. And I? well, I did want to enter the contest too, but life got in the way, and I completely missed the deadline to send the story. I did sign up for some other events with Brandon and will carry my hardcover Stormlight Archive books to be signed by him when he gets here.
Thank you, Brandon, for writing these life-changing stories.
Amit got a tattoo of Brandon’s words on his body. I decided to carry them with me everywhere on my keychain. Each of us carries the Knights-Radiant in our hearts. Each of us is broken made whole again.
If you know a person who will benefit from a book that changed your life, give it to them. Sometimes, those books might actually change their lives.
“Life before death. Strength before weakness. Journey before destination.” — Brandon Sanderson.