Readers Write  April 2012 | issue 436

The Best Feeling In The World

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The summer after my fourth-grade year, the circus came to our small suburban town. Two weeks before the tents rolled in, the local Kiwanis Club, of which my dad was president, sponsored a contest. Coloring-book pictures of clown faces were distributed at the super­market, and the kid who colored the best clown face would be named Honorary Ringmaster and would get to wear a top hat and blow the whistle to begin the circus.

I wanted desperately to win. For a week I worked on my clown face. No magic markers or crayons for me. I used oil pastels, smearing the colors together with Vaseline. Then I painstakingly inked the background with a black Sharpie and boosted the white of the clown face with coats of white-out. Surrounded by the other kids’ Crayola submissions, my clown gleamed from the bulletin board at the supermarket. There was no competition.

The night before the circus arrived, my dad gently broke the news: he’d been reminded that his position as Kiwanis Club president automatically disqualified me from the contest. Everyone agreed my clown was the best, he said, “but it wouldn’t look right if you won. Understand?”

I did not. I sobbed myself to sleep.

At 4 am the next morning there was a knock at my bedroom door. My father handed me one of his old flannel shirts to pull on over my pajamas, and then we drove to the circus grounds, where the painted trucks carrying tents, cannons, lions, and elephants were pulling onto the fields. He and I stood in the dewy grass in silence as the workers set up the tents, pitched hay for the animals, and erected giant billboards with grinning clown faces.

When the big top was finally up, Dad spoke to one of the workers, who lifted the canvas flap and led us into the sawdust-filled ring in the middle of the massive, empty tent. My dad stepped back and let me stand there alone for a moment. Then he put his arms around me and didn’t let go for a long time.

Kate Quarfordt
Brooklyn, New York

It wasn’t an easy decision to feed the feral silver-and-white cat. Prison cats live such short lives, too often ended by disease, cars, razor wire, and periodic trapping by the prison guards for euthanasia. As soon as you form an attachment, they’re gone. And she was just a tiny scrap of a cat, terrified of everyone and everything. But she looked so much like my last cat on the outside that I couldn’t help but tempt her to my cell window with a little food. I named her Violet.

It was stressful smuggling food from the chow hall and sneaking it past the pat searches, but I did it twice a day, every day. I had to ward off the cat haters and bullies in my dorm who just needed someplace to direct their anger. When I defended Violet from these women, I became more fearsome than I really am. I would have done anything to keep her from harm. I watched her belly grow round with kittens, then worried over every scratch and cut as she fought off the tomcats, opossums, and skunks who tried to get at her babies. I grieved with her as she paced and cried for days after the well-intentioned yard crew took the kittens away at only four weeks.

It took forever for Violet to trust me. I’d stand like a statue at my window week after week as she ate the scraps I’d brought for her. At first she’d dash off at the slightest movement from me. Then she graduated to eating on the sill if I kept the window closed. Finally I opened the window as slowly as I could and cooed to her until she stayed. I endured many scratches and bites in my attempts to pet her: first just her tail, then her back. As we became more familiar, she allowed me to scratch under her chin.

Now, when I call her name each morning, she comes running across the field and leaps into my window, purring and rubbing against the bars. Her willingness to trust has reawakened my own ability to love.

Sonya Reed
Gatesville, Texas

For most of my adult life I thought sex was the highest pleasure. I could not imagine anything more intense or delicious. Then, after I had been meditating daily for twenty-five years, I found myself involuntarily waking up at 3 am every night. Not knowing what else to do, I would meditate, and at the end of each sitting I would burst into tears. This continued for nine months. Then one day something changed.

I’d gotten home before my wife that afternoon, so I started to make dinner. While I was waiting for the macaroni to bake, I was doing a Buddhist practice called “labeling”: instead of getting lost in each thought, I simply labeled it. As I was doing this, the room began to get brighter, sounds became more vivid, and my sense of touch turned acute. Everything seemed so intensely beautiful that it began to overwhelm me. A cardinal singing outside, the grapefruit in my hand, even the little pieces of garbage at the bottom of the sink — all were precious.

This state of vivid awareness continued for fifteen days and fifteen nights, twenty-four hours a day. It was a feeling of ecstatic joy. Sex fell to second place.

Stephen W. Leslie
Schoharie, New York

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