Monday, April 25, 2011

Another First

At the tender age of 3, Simon has earned his first book dedication.


The backstory:
Laura and Simon and I walk up and down Lakeshore Avenue near our house at least once a day. We have become friendly with many people on that street. We often nod, say hi, wave and keep going. We will occasionally buy a coffee or cookie for the regular homeless guys, chat with the fellows playing chess, give hugs to the cooperative bakery workers. It usually ends with that.

However, every once in a while, we actually get to know folks.

We started becoming friendly with one Lakeshore regular named Djaffar about a year and a half ago. Djaffar practically lives on the bench in front of Peet's Coffee. He's a fixture. Whenever Djaffar saw Simon he would give him a big wave, a big hi and after a while would come in for a "high five". Djaffar was clearly smitten with Simon, as so many people are.

I always thought it was sweet AND pretty unusual that a man would be so interested in and engaged with a small child. All of my American training to be afraid of strange men would kick up and I was always friendly, but kept a certain distance.

Then one day, we stopped to say hi when Simon was getting a tube feed. Djaffar noticed Simon's feeding tube and asked what it was for. We told him the Reader's Digest version of our story and could immediately tell how moved he was by Simon's tale. From that point on, his affection for Simon was clearer and clearer. He started getting him presents for Hannukah and his birthday. He would shout hi from across the street. Simon loved seeing him. They clearly had a bond and we began chatting more with him when we would stop to say hi.

A few weeks ago, Djaffar said, "Hey, I wrote a book and I dedicated it to Simon". I wasn't really sure what to think. Our sweet friend is prone to hyperbole and I really didn't know much about him so I think I said something like, "That's so cool! Thank you!" thinking he was dedicating some amateur writing project to Simon.

Then last week, he gave us an honest-to-god published copy of his book.

And there, in black and white, is the dedication.

Of course, Laura and I both started crying when we read it.

I was called for jury duty on Tuesday and brought the book, Donkey Heart, Monkey Mind, with me. I finished the book by the end of the day. It was stunning.

It tells the story of Djaffar's life in Algeria and the politics of North Africa. It chronicles his undying optimism that he could actually get out of his home country and live a full and happy life.  It graphically describes the torture he endured in the various prisons he ended up in as he worked towards his goal of freedom. It details incredible kindness and generosity of spirit.

It's categorized as a fictional novel, but it was clear to me from the little I knew about him this was really about his life. He later explained to me that it was easier to call it fiction than to have to defend the veracity of every single detail of events that could never be proved to another person.

After I finished reading his life story, I realized that Djaffar and Simon are brothers of the heart.

This is the note I wrote to him:

"I love your indomitable spirit- the wiley, scrappy, fierceness that kept you moving and trying and trusting as doors closed and chains locked. I also love your willingness to believe in the goodness of every person you met, long after most people would have given up on humankind. So many people become bitter and hard and brittle after trauma, but something burns in you bright enough to shine through the ashes of your past. That capacity is a truly rare thing. I think that light is the thing that you recognize in Simon. You both have seen more pain than anyone should but are thrilled to be alive, to be here on this planet and to have people to love."

Knowing Djaffar's story gives me hope that despite all the painful, scary, tortuous things that have happened to Simon (and may happen again) , he now has a role-model for how to live life fully, keep his arms open wide and love with everything he has.

Thank you, Djaffar.

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burstsofintel said...

I am crying at my desk. Just sayin. So powerful and so beautiful...beyond words tears even.

Liz "pansyliz" said...

i bought a kindle version of the book. How wonderful. What a small world and what an honor to such a special young man.

LFS, Liz

Sam said...

This is such a fantastic story! I'm going to get this book immediately. Love, love love,

Mom said...

I love this!
Hugs, Kathalijn

Anonymous said...

You should definitely invite that man over for dinner.

Anonymous said...

Here's a remarkable radio interview w/Djaffar. Now, I'll have to buy his book:

Kristi Thomsen said...

Love, love, love...thank you for sharing this story!