The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; W. B. Yeats
In 1921, a South African philanthropist by the name of Isaac Ochberg sent a ship to the Ukraine and Poland to rescue approximately 200 orphans whose parents were murdered in the pogroms sweeping across the Russian Empire in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
At the time, Eastern Europe was war-ravaged and disease-ridden. It was a time when civil war was raging between the communist and white armies in Russia, Poland and Lithuania. Many who survived died in the famine of 1919, and even more died in the devastating influenza epidemic that swept through the region that year, and in 1920.
Ochberg’s mission was to travel to the area, arrange for transport, and rescue some of these abandoned children. He went from town to town, visiting the orphanages and synagogues, gathering the children. He left on his mission in March 1921. At that stage, civil war was still raging, and his visit was filled with anxiety and danger. The task of selecting the children was a heartbreaking one, as he had to leave many behind.
In the end, roughly 200 children out of many thousands boarded a ship, and were transported to the port of Southampton in England, and then travelled on to South Africa. All of them were under seventeen years of age, except for two sisters who were in their early twenties. They were taken on board to care for the children during the long sea journey. One of those two young women was my paternal grandmother.
“I’m awfully sorry to say…”
These were the words that began the email I received on December 8, 2017. The one that made me feel as if the blood were being drained from my body. I had sunk everything into this. Everything. And the answer was finally here in big bold letters. The answer was: No.
Still, something of an inexplicable spark remained. In that moment, it was as if I were two different people, having two very different experiences. The physical Paul Suntup was a ghastly shade of white, nearly in a state of shock, and on a fast-track towards feeling defeated. But some other part of me, remained completely and utterly unphased. This other part of me seemed to know something that I did not. I decided to trust it.
It only took about 2-3 minutes to re-center myself. And as soon as that happened, I felt the blood coming back into me. I knew immediately that things would turn around. I reminded myself of the certainty I had going into the project. My unwavering faith that this book was destined to happen, as much as I was destined to be born out of the wreckage of that war-torn country.
How close did this edition of Misery come to never existing? How close did I come to never being born? Everything is connected, and the formula, whether you call it chaos or order, is the same. The bumps in the road force us to look inward, and when we do, we may see something we normally would not. For me, in the moment I received that email, I looked inward, and I saw the face of my grandmother whom I had never met. I saw the terrible ordeal she endured and survived. I saw how she lives on inside of me, and the way she looked at me when I thought for a moment that this dream, this massive effort would fail. And I saw the face of my father, her son, and nothing more needed to be said or thought.
It’s an interesting thing, this negative response which we hear throughout our lives. For most of my life, whenever I was told ‘no’, I would immediately accept that response, and let things go. It got me nowhere. When I started Suntup Editions, I was told ‘no’ a lot. I would be asked, “So what books have you published?” And I would reply, “None, this would be my first.” You can imagine how that conversation would end. If I had accepted ‘no’ as an answer, Suntup Editions would never exist. If someone tells you that you cannot do something, or that it is impossible, just ignore it, especially if it’s yourself telling you those things.
So you push on. I responded, and worked on getting the fire started again.
The Road to Misery is a story that has many players, some of them are guardian angels. I am forever grateful to them, and to the players who helped get things back on track.
I received a phone call on the afternoon of December 12, 2017. This time, the news was very different. It was the response I visualized when I first made the decision to pursue this. This time, the answer was: Yes.