The Next Best Thing to Being There

Maybe you didn't really miss it after all.

By Kurt Rump

Sometimes you just can’t be there in person.

It happened to me recently. The event was a book launch. The author of the book being launched, Betsy, is a first cousin, once removed. (If you’re not familiar with genealogy kinship terms, Betsy is my first cousin’s daughter.)

The book, a graphic novel titled Amelia Erroway, Castaway Commander, was published by Scholastic. Betsy wrote and illustrated it. The launch was to occur in New York City, an epicenter for major publishing houses and where Scholastic is headquartered.

This was a big deal. But what’s the rest of the story?

Betsy is a talented artist with a vivid imagination. I’ve known her for her entire life, and I’m pretty sure that she emerged from the womb with a drawing pencil in one hand and a sketch pad in the other.

When our families got together, which was often, she would inevitably retreat to a “quiet” spot in the room – someplace within earshot of the conversation – where she could listen and stay tuned-in to discussions while casually “creating” something.

Whatever imagery she conjured up in her head that day would magically make its way onto the page in front of her. At the end of the day, we were typically rewarded with a “Betsy original.”

It’s been a treat to watch Betsy develop her talent. Simple sketches gradually evolved to detailed drawings. In time, character names were added, and storylines were introduced.

She pursued her craft through high school and college, eventually parlaying her gift into the book deal with Scholastic. Roughly four years after that, her graphic novel, which comprises nearly 300 beautifully expressive watercolor paintings that illustrate the story chronicling Amelia’s adventures, was going to be published. A notable accomplishment, wouldn’t you say?

So yes, the book launch was a big deal, but I couldn’t be there to celebrate it.

Following the event, a few photos were posted to Facebook – or so I’m told. You see, I’m not much of a Facebook fan. I’m annoyed by the ads that show up in my feed, by the algorithms that decide what I get to see (or not see), by the noise of mindless posts that are meant to be entertaining but often don’t tickle my funny bone, by the endless scrolling, by the inability to find something that I saw earlier but seems to have disappeared. Shall I go on?

Anyway, it was a few days after the photos were posted to Facebook that I was told about them. I asked my wife if she had seen them, and she assured me that she had. So, I went looking for them, and do you think that I could find them? Of course not! Apparently too much time had gone by. Facebook (and their algorithms) had moved on. I ran out of patience and moved on, too.

Fortunately, I was granted another (better) option for tuning into the event after the fact. My cousin created a TightKnit story album, uploaded his photos from the book launch celebration, and shared it with the family. His wife and others added more photos, and they all contributed commentary that helped bring the event to life.

I was introduced to the restaurant where the event was held, the friendly and helpful staff, and the special place set aside for book-signings and sales.

I became familiar with many of Betsy’s friends, colleagues, and extended family who attended, and I learned of the roles that so many played in supporting her along the way.

And later in the evening, after group photos were taken and the event was winding down, the crowd began to chant, “Speech! Speech!” At their insistence, Betsy stood on a chair and graciously thanked everyone. Her brief, heartfelt, impromptu remarks are included in the TightKnit album. My favorite part – as she was grappling for the right words to wrap up her thoughts – was when she said, “…and I just… I really………… Words are dumb… That’s why I draw pictures.”

This was appropriately followed by laughing, cheering, and a rousing “hip-hip-hooray!”

So, no, I wasn’t there in person. Is that still a little disappointing? Yes, it is.

But this was the next best thing to being there.

I could see the joy in their faces. I could hear it in the conversations. And the memories will be there for everyone to revisit, celebrate, and add to for generations to come.

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