Caveat – The Same Old Thing

My wives got tired of me wanting to name a daughter Shosha. So, yes, I’ve read the book many times and consider it a perennial favorite. By the great Isaac Bashevis Singer, it’s a somewhat odd story from a Jewish section of some city in pre-WWII Poland about a boy and girl who grow up and apart and then come together again. I laugh, giving the same caveat about many books I read: if you love the action and sex in the genre-of-the-week, this probably isn’t for you. But, if you like how Pasternak wonders aimlessly in the philosophy stacks of the library, this will be more to your liking. I’ve reviewed it before – I’ll try to find the review – but was struck this time by two things.

The Cat and Mouse

First is the theme that snakes through all the book and maybe all of Singer’s work. Maybe through all of Hebrew Scripture: G makes both the mouse and the cat. The mouse plays and the cat eats the mouse. Both need each other and can’t be apart.

I’ve come to see this everywhere and have taken it as my own. Last week I was in the Post Office, behind an older lady – older than me – who was having a fit. It seems that – I know this only because she yelled her woes to the entire crowd waiting in line – it seems that every year some financial institution in Europe sends her and her husband a wad of cash. Usually, they get it in the mail, but this year, with security and all, the dirty rotten oafs want her to pick up her check at the embassy. She is incensed. And so is her husband, she says, who has to wait in the car. From disability or from the fear of being seen with this woman, I can’t say. Me? I’m sitting in line wondering what kind of largess you have when your bank wants you to pick up your annual check at the bleedin’ embassy?

There’s no way she’s driving to DC, so she made some kind of deal with who-knows-who and is sending them paperwork to release the money to her. All this is played out for the very nice people of my town and the Post Office, making $6.75 per hour. Now she complains, with lots of yelling, that it will cost forty-five bucks to mail her damn letter and that doesn’t include tracking. In a huff, and not appearing used to this kind of rough treatment, the lady pays and storms out.


Christians as Shock Absorbers

I carry my box to the counter, hoping that any residual anger in the clerk stays bottled up, though I consider it a Christian’s job to be the culture’s shock absorber for this kind of silly business. The clerk looked at me like she’d already had a really lousy day and it was only 11:00.

I grimaced and spouted my new philosophy. “Well,” I said, “ G makes the mouse, and G makes the cat.”

We smiled and she chuckled with me, and I was glad to relieve some of her built-up pressure.

It’s a forgiving philosophy. It’s an acknowledgment that G made you as you are. Love yourself and forgive yourself. Do the same for others. G made them, too. It’s a harder pill to swallow in the book, with the Jews knowing what comes with Hitler. I think of it now, reading about the Babylonian exile, and how bad moderns can be on history. Would we – would I? – have sung the dirge that G makes us all when being separated from my family for maybe the last time. I don’t know. I don’t want to know.

Giving Up The Ghost

Also in the book – spoiler alert – Shosha dies. The boy and girl are married now, and WWII looms, so they are moving. Shosha walks dirt roads with her husband, carrying what they own, until, finally, she sits down and dies. Just gives up the ghost. She’s tired of trying so hard. She’s had enough.

This time though, the sentiment resonates in me. I am no fan of any death and swear to my wife that G will have to strike me down and that I will fight for every breath. Only once, during my hospital stay because of my accident, did I not care if I woke. It wasn’t for me, but for my wife and family that I cared about dying, knowing that death would cause more grief.

So, my takeaway here? G made the mouse and the cat. Learn it, and meditate on it, and the next time someone does you wrong, repeat it under your breath. In a more reflective moment, decide which one you are.


For more book reviews – real and kind of – go here to the review page.