We all have a list of books/movies/music that make us nuts.
Based on what I heard, this book surely looked to be on mine.
Consider: One Monday on a New York street, Maurice Mazyck, an 11-year-old African American panhandler, asks Laura Schroff, a 35-year-old advertising executive for money to buy a meal. She blows him off. Starts to cross the street. Stops. Walks back to the boy and offers to buy him lunch. They go to McDonald’s, where they both order the same trillion-calorie meal --- Big Mac, fries, thick chocolate shake.
"If you have a beating heart --- of if you fear you’re suffering a hardening of the emotional arteries --- you really ought to commit three hours to this book at the earliest possible opportunity."
And thus begins a relationship that will have them meet for 150 more Mondays.
Why did this summary of the plot grate on me?
Because I don’t believe in unalloyed goodness. Life is lived in the grays. Even Mother Teresa? Yes, Mother Teresa --- for years, we had the same entertainment lawyer.
On the other hand, AN INVISIBLE THREAD: The True Story of an 11-Year-Old Panhandler, a Busy Sales Executive, and an Unlikely Meeting with Destiny, is short. It came highly recommended --- the general idea was that it delivered buckets of tears and a cathartic reading experience. I like to cry; at concerts, it’s my default response to beauty. So…. I gave it a shot.
May I say: If you have a beating heart --- of if you fear you’re suffering a hardening of the emotional arteries --- you really ought to commit three hours to this book at the earliest possible opportunity.
Oh, sure, it has all the pathos you can imagine, and then some. At 2, Maurice was so hungry he ate the garbage --- and poisoned rat droppings. His father, who would have had to list his occupation as “gang member,” left his mother, a heroin and crack addict, when Maurice was 6. That year, his aunt gave him one of the two presents he received before Laura showed up --- a joint. If Maurice had a prayer, it was this: please don’t let my father let me die.
From the beginning of the book:
“If you make me lunch,” he said, “will you put it in a brown paper bag?”
I didn’t really understand the question. "Okay, sure. But why do you want it in a brown paper bag?”
“Because when I see kids come to school with their lunch in a brown paper bag, that means someone cares about them.”
I looked away when Maurice said that, so he wouldn’t see me tear up. A simple brown paper bag, I thought.
It’s pitiful that kids live this way. (Quick-witted readers are already thinking: they’re the children of Omelas.) It’s even worse that they have no dreams, no hope. But we shrug that information off. We know all that.
What we don’t know is Laura’s story. Her father was a Long Island bricklayer and bartender, beloved by everyone who knew him. Outside his home, that is. In the safety of his family, fueled by alcohol, he was a colossal asshole --- he beat his wife, humiliated his children, turned furniture into firewood.
Laura got out young and took her outsized personality to New York, where she became a star ad sales executive for Ms. Magazine and USA Today. By her mid-30s, she had one bad marriage behind her and was getting a little antsy --- she dated, but none of those men looked like fathers-in-waiting.
For Laura, Maurice became “the child I always wanted and dreamed of having.”
And this is where it starts to get goopy. If you have ever been a teacher, you know you got more out of that class than even the brightest student. So it is here. Laura saved Maurice’s life, and, in a vey real way, he gave her life more meaning than a big media job ever could. That she knows it --- that she can say it --- is very brave.
But there’s more. Laura sees the story of her quarter-century friendship with Maurice as a destiny. An intuitive voice told her to turn back to the boy on the sidewalk. And when she did, everything fell into place for her. Let her say why:
I believed then and I believe now that there is something in the universe that brings people who need each other together. There is something that helps two wildly disparate people somehow forge a bond. Maybe it is precisely the thing that haunts us most that makes us reach out to others we think can provide some solace. Maybe it was my own past that made me turn around and find Maurice that day. And maybe, just maybe, that invisible thread of fate would bring us back together again.
An invisible thread? It comes from a Chinese proverb: “An invisible thread connects those who are destined to meet, regardless of time, place, and circumstance."
If George Soros is right, the wrong moves by the European financial community will plunge the world into deflation. In that scenario, you are better off having money than things; in that scenario, debt can crush you. In that scenario, which is reality for many --- like: millions of kids like Maurice --- the future is grim. There will, Soros fears, be blood in the streets.
In such a downturn --- yes, I know, the headlines say things are getting better, but I’m far from convinced --- we will be called to look after one another in a way we never have been called to do before. That is to say, like Marines, we will be invited to run toward trouble and take responsibility for the hurt we witness. Very simply, we might want to imitate Laura and expand our circle of caring by one or two.
If you understand these ideas, or want to, it would, I think, be a good thing for you to read this book. And pass it on. And encourage the next reader to do the same.
If you think this is sky-is-falling hysteria, that this view of the future couldn’t possibly apply to you, fine. But then I have to wonder: why are you reading these words?
Reviewed by Jesse Kornbluth, founder of HeadButler.com on February 16, 2012