When I was 14 years old, I attended a party at the local bowling alley with my gymnastics team. While we were bowling, a woman walked into the building holding a small cat. The dainty little tabby was on her way to the shelter unless someone was willing to take her. I must have called my mother from the party; either that, or I simply brought the cat home (I was known to bring home strays during in my childhood, and I can’t say that much has changed).
I named the cat Juliet because she was small and beautiful and about two years old, which I interpreted to be 14 in cat years, the age of the famous Shakespearean heroine (or so I thought — I have since read that the character is actually 13).
In those days, especially in the rural countryside of upstate New York, people often let their cats roam outdoors. One day Juliet ventured out of the house and didn’t return. For two weeks I searched for my little cat and prayed that she would come home. I was devastated.
It must have been late spring or summer, because on about the 14th day (there are a lot of 14s in this story) I went out into the back yard, spread a towel on the grass, and lay down to sunbathe. I took off my favorite necklace and bracelet set (to avoid getting tan lines) and placed them in the grass next to the towel. Time passed. When I’d had enough sun, I got up and ran my hand through the grass. The necklace and bracelet were gone. I searched and searched, but never found them.
That evening, after crying a few tears over my lost jewelry, I looked out the window and saw Juliet walking slowly up our dirt driveway. She was thin and weak, but she was home. I ran outside and grabbed her, enveloped her in a hug, and brought her inside safe and sound.
Two lessons I thought I learned that day have stayed with me ever since. One has served me well, while the other…I’m not so sure.
The first lesson was this: don’t sweat the loss of material things. I loved that bracelet and necklace the way a 14-year-old loves her favorite things, and I was inconsolable when I first realized they were gone (never mind due to my own negligence, placing them in the grass). But once my cat returned, that jewelry seemed so unimportant. The angst and tears I’d invested in the loss seemed silly. To this day, if I lose or break a piece of jewelry, I allow myself just a moment of regret, and then I move on. I’ve never had much valuable jewelry anyway, and even sentimentally valuable things are just things.
The second thing I told myself that day was more problematic. I believed that if something good is going to happen to you, you have to give something up in return. Maybe I had done something bad and God, or the universe, didn’t feel that I deserved to have my cat back — not unless I gave up something in return. I’m not sure I should have carried this “lesson” with me. It seems born of a sense of guilt, as if one doesn’t deserve happiness, or the moment you have it you should expect it to be snatched away. My guess is that being the child of a Holocaust survivor has something to do with this attitude.
These days I attempt to convince myself that it might be okay to say, “You know, this nice thing just happened, and it’s all right. I don’t have to expect something bad to happen every time I experience something good.” I don’t really think life, or God, or the universe, works that way, anyway. Think of all of the people in the world who experience great triumphs, accomplishments, and joys, and don’t wait for or expect something painful in return. Or think of those who suffer without experiencing equal happiness. Life has its ups and downs, for sure, but are they necessarily related?
That’s what I’ve been trying to tell myself for the past six months, while I have waited with anticipation for the release of my first book at the same time as I’ve witnessed the deterioration of my father’s health in hospitals and rehab facilities. Sometimes, when I visit him, he asks about the book. He smiles when I tell him that soon it will be here. Soon I will hold a copy, and I am hoping beyond hope that he will still be here when I can hand him one.
I tell myself that it’s a silly thing, even a narcissistic one, to suggest that my father’s decline is related in any way to the publication of my first book. I’m not the center of the universe, even though I might have thought I was when I was 14.
I must allow myself to enjoy each step toward the publication of Message from a Blue Jay. My father would want it that way. Just two weeks ago, when he noticed that I looked sad during one of our visits he said, “Don’t be unhappy. To be unhappy is to deny life.”
So, let’s celebrate this small thing: My publisher, Buddhapuss Ink, recently sent me a package. Inside the package was a stack of postcards and a pile of business cards, both featuring the cover of my book. The business cards identify me as “Faye Rapoport DesPres, Author of Message from a Blue Jay.” That was a fun moment.
In the meantime, Back Pages Books in Waltham, which will host my book launch party on Friday, May 16 at 7 p.m., was recently featured in Boston Magazine. Alex Green, the wonderful, entrepreneurial owner of the bookstore, has started a unique and community-minded Indiegogo campaign in an attempt to raise money to purchase his own letterpress equipment so that he can publish books the old fashioned way. The article notes that:
Green has decided—after many years—that it’s time for his own letterpress, which he wants to harbor inside Back Pages Books and open up to the public for lessons and classes. To do that, he launched a fundraiser page last week and is relying on the help of supporters and donors. “Waltham is sort of an awesome place to do this type of thing. It’s a very supportive community,” he said. “The main focus is to actually have the press and to be able to start printing in the shop. I have a large list of projects that I would like to jump into. The way [having my own letterpress] would change things is immeasurable.” Green, who has worked with Pulitzer Prize winners and even a Nobel Laureate to create prints, which he often frames and mounts in his shop, launched his Indiegogo campaign last week, and already he’s raised more than $7,000 of his $17,000 goal.
What a great idea steeped in the love of books and the printed word — the old fashioned, real printed word. I donated to the campaign, and I hope Alex’s dream comes true.
And when it does, I’ll bet that nothing bad will happen in return.