(A reprint from my old blog. JJ)
It came with my change for a meat loaf sandwich.
The cashier handed me paper currency and a few coins. As I stuffed the money in my wallet I saw words written across Washington’s face on a well-worn dollar bill.
People often write things on paper money — say what you want, it’s one way to spread a message. The Federal Reserve may disapprove, but who asked them? Besides, it only costs a buck, which you’ll spend anyway. And your message will travel the world until the bill wears out.
Back at the office I pulled out the bill and examined it. The dollar bore a quote from Shakespeare, printed in the crisp, round hand of a young woman.
And when he shall die,
take him and cut him out in little stars,
And he will make the face of heaven so fine
That all the world will be in love with night
And pay no worship to the garish sun.
That’s Juliet’s voice, in the third act of Romeo and Juliet. She awaits her lover, she is impatient, and she is crazy with passion. Crazy, at that moment, in an almost certifiable way.
But who hasn’t been there, at least for a little while? And who wouldn’t feel sorry for someone who’d never felt it?
You know what it’s like: that feeling that the world and all that’s in it is completely and utterly perfect, because you love someone with all your heart and soul and — it must be said — hormones. And because you are absolutely sure that they love you back in just the same way.
You may be wrong. And even if you’re not, that fine madness will not last. But while it does, for a week or a month or a year, you walk with the gods and pity the poor mortals who don’t have what –or who – you have.
I imagine a young woman, smitten and starry-eyed, lovingly printing Juliet’s words on the dollar bill so that some one else out there might read it and know how wondrous love can be.
A year or two or ten down the line, she might remember this gesture and scoff — at her youth, her innocence, her temporary insanity.
She shouldn’t. It may be insane and unwise to let someone else become one’s entire universe. But without a good slog upstream through the fiery torrent of romantic love, how can you truly grow up? Without the memory of passion there can be no wisdom: only dry platitudes of common sense, applied by rote and without understanding.
First love — you have to feel it, once. Who’d want to miss it, no matter how doomed it turned out to be?
I kept the bill in my wallet for a few days. But then I spent it, and send it on its way again. Freeing Juliet to croon again of love and madness from the wallets of strangers, a long-lingering echo of some young woman’s all-too-brief walk with the gods.