2007-12-21 / Columnists

The Rockaway Irregular

An Old Year and a New One
Commentary by Stuart W. Mirsky

As we wind down to the end of another year, heading into 2008, this seems like an appropriate time to take stock of where we've been and, of course, to look at where we're going. The past 12 months have been eventful, like most years (how awful if they weren't!) and there's no reason to think things will get less so, going forward.

I had the pleasure this year, and no little aggravation, in helping to bring about Rockaway's first-ever, Literary Arts Festival last April. This event broke ground here on the peninsula, bringing well-known (and not so wellknown) writers together with filmmakers, editors, publishers and agents, to sell and talk about their books and films. The event lasted for a day in Gateway National Recreation Area's Ft. Tilden and involved panel discussions, film clips, author book signings, and lots and lots of books for sale by Borders, and by many of the individual authors themselves. I happen to like that kind of stuff, of course, so I was glad to have been a part of it. However, I didn't get to participate as much as I'd wanted to, given the role I had taken on of coordinating the activities involved. I ended up missing most of the discussions and barely saw any of the film clips!

As part of my role in the event, though, I got to meet and work with an extraordinary lady, the late Barbara Eisenstadt, a woman I came to admire tremendously, both for her energy and her vision. Her passing this fall cut deeply into the hearts of many in this community and I felt it no less than others. Though I only knew her for a brief time, she left a deep impression on me. She was the force that made the Literary Arts Festival possible and I'm not sure how we go on without her. But she wanted us to and so, we're aiming to reprise the event- this time in June 2008. The new festival will combine films and books in a new way, adding a fullfledged Rockaway film festival to last year's celebration of books and the written word.

Our new festival is now scheduled for the first full weekend in June, with a showing of Rockaway-based films (or films by Rockaway-based auteurs) on the evenings of June 7 and 8. The entire day of June 8 will be devoted to panel discussions, book signings, author meet-ups, etc. The venue will be the same: Gateway National Recreation Area's Ft. Tilden. The festival will be held in cooperation with the Rockaway Artists Alliance and the Rockaway Theater Company. As was done last time, the event itself is being sponsored and organized by the Rockaway Music and Arts Council, an organization which was led and spearheaded for years by Eisenstadt. This coming year's event will be named in her honor.

But it wasn't just Eisenstadt's passing that marked the year for many, or at least it wasn't for me. A number of other people I knew in the community passed on, too, some after prolonged illnesses and some without any warning at all. My next-door neighbor, a former teacher in her mid-80s, went into the hospital one weekend this fall for treatment of an injured leg and died roughly a week later, the victim of an unanticipated infection she contracted after admission. Looking out across my driveway at her now empty home, I'm reminded of the mortality to which we're all prey. It seems strange to see her house at night now, dark and empty, where before her lights were always burning - or to go in or out of my own house during the day without seeing her sitting there on her porch, as she was wont to do, eager to chat. She was well on in years, of course, but she'd lived here since before I'd moved in and was something of a fixture in the neighborhood. The realization that this is no longer so leaves me without words at times.

For myself, I finished out this year with a pretty virulent bug of my own. It had me flat on my back and housebound for more than a month, even causing me to miss a column in this paper, not to mention a meeting of my beloved Rockaway Republicans! Not life threatening in itself, the bug still left me debilitated and weak, with the need to build myself up again. I can't help thinking that this experience of being bedridden and wracked by fever and coughing is what it'll be like some day when things become much more serious - as they inevitably must. Those who have been reading my column for a while may recall that almost three years ago, I had a brush with mortality of my own, one much closer to the real thing than this year's bug, which had me out of commission these past thirty plus days. I was lucky to have come through that one relatively unscathed, though it probably left me in the somewhat weakened condition that made this last bout with a voracious virus such a trial. Life takes its toll on us and we're never quite the same, from one year to the next.

That's why it's so important to get things done while you can. I managed to finish a new book this past summer and see it through to publication, and that's something. It's called "A Raft on the River" and tells the true story of a local Rockaway lady, Miriam Sorger, who, while still a young girl of only 15, survived the Nazi Holocaust in southeastern Poland (part of today's Ukraine) by her wits and thanks to no little luck. Her experiences, when she first told me about them, struck a chord and got me wondering how I would have done in her shoes. How do you deal with a military machine bent on finding and eradicating you when you're still no more than a child, alone and adrift in a world turned upside down? Miriam's story captures that, as well as the realization that must inevitably follow once you see the extent of what you've lived through - and what others did not.

"A Raft on the River," from U.K.- based Paul Mould Publishing, will be out sometime after January 2008 and I finally feel ready to move on. Miriam's story engulfed me for a time, as will happen with writers, but now I'm ready for something new. So each year is a marker of sorts for us - and also an opportunity. Better not to let it pass us by but, rather, to engage with it and do the things we really want to do, the things we care about. And better, too, to enjoy those around us, those we care about and who, hopefully, care about us. You don't get another chance. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! rockirreg@aol.com

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