MY SISTER’S MESSAGE

by Cathy Arden on March 22, 2016

Zakopane book Doren

 

Today, March 22, 2016 is 35 years since my sister, Doren, died of breast cancer. I often think about how little they knew then about breast cancer, especially in someone as young as she was. She was diagnosed in her late 20’s and died when she was 33 years old.

This year, today, I’m sharing a story and a message — from my sister to me, from me to you. And, I suppose, to her as well.

The Story:

I was in a play that ran in Los Angeles for 9 months called, Train To Zakopané. The character I played was Mme Nadia Selmeczy, an elegant woman and retired actress. The play takes place in 1928 on a train going across Poland. Mme Selmeczy is in a train compartment for much of Act One. One of the props I needed was a book, as I had to appear to be reading during a segment of one of the scenes. The Prop Master brought me a book toward the end of the rehearsal period. It was a hardbound book that looked appropriately old and worn, in brown and tan hues. The book needed to look authentically like a book a person might be reading in Europe in 1928.

I opened the book to random pages during the early performances over one or two weeks. Much to my surprise, the book was in a foreign language. I had no idea what language it was, nor did I bother to find out.   I was an actress, after all, and I merely had to appear to be reading.

After a few performances, I realized it would be much more effective if I had a bookmark placed in the book so I’d always be able to open the book to a particular page that my character had marked. It would look more authentic. I decided to look online at home for an antique bookmark. I found one that seemed perfect for my character and the play. When the bookmark arrived at my house, I brought it to the theater and gave it to the woman handling my props at that time. I asked her to place it anywhere in the book that would be placed onstage for me. It didn’t matter where in the book the bookmark was placed. What was important was merely that the bookmark be sticking out of the book at a page I could automatically open the book to. The bookmark had a ribbon and a tassel that would hang over the edge of the book.

The first time I opened the book with the bookmark placed inside of it was during a performance that first night I brought the bookmark to the theater. I looked down at a page in the book as I always had, pretending to read, when I noticed something that startled me. It was a word that appeared twice on the page I was looking at. That word was Doren. My sister’s name. I was so stunned and shaken that when the moment came that I had to say my next line, I missed my cue.

Doren. My sister. There she was. Staring up at me. Not once, but twice on the same page. It was as clear as if she were speaking to me. I’m here. I see you.

The Message:

During the last months of my sister’s life, when she was sleeping on a hospital bed in my mother’s dining room, she said to me, “You belong on a stage.” I wasn’t acting then. I had been acting when I was younger. I had left any thoughts of an acting career behind. I had devoted myself to writing. I only remembered my sister’s words when I looked down at the page that night during the performance and I saw Doren staring up at me from the page and heard her voice again, “You belong on a stage.”

Doren, I got the message.   I see you. Or perhaps you see me. Or both.

Denouement:

It’s almost two years later now since that moment on stage with my sister’s name appearing before me. The play closed in August 2015. I took that book home with me and I only just now examined the book I had on stage with me for 9 months. It’s by Taylor Caldwell. And for the first time I see it is a Danish translation of what appears to be Captains and the Kings. But in Danish it’s “Hinsidls Godt Og Ondt” (Beyond Good and Evil). And then I do a little more research on Taylor Caldwell.  She sometimes wrote under a male pseudonym. At the age of eight she started to write stories, and in fact wrote her first novel, The Romance of Atlantis, at the age of twelve (although it remained unpublished until 1975). Her father did not approve such activity for women, and sent her to work in a bindery. She continued to write prolifically, however, despite ill health. In 1947, according to TIME magazine, she discarded and burned the manuscripts of 140 unpublished novels. Although another source said it was her then husband who did the burning.

Doren was born in 1947, the year 140 of Caldwell’s unpublished novels were burned. My sister never completed the novel she was writing when she died in 1981. Whether or not there is a connection in any of this, there was a connection for me on stage during every performance from that moment on, looking down at my sister’s name in a very worn Danish version of a Taylor Caldwell book.  Some things are undeniable.

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

Steve Howard March 22, 2016 at 4:20 PM

Madame Selm – you are such a method actor (ress?). Good story – great inspiration.

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Cathy Arden March 22, 2016 at 8:45 PM

Thank you, Steve. You sitting across from me on stage all those nights was also inspiration.

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Amy Louise Pommier March 22, 2016 at 7:16 PM

What an amazing and strange series of links of people and circumstances. It’s mysterious and magical, the ways in which people no longer on this plane of existence come back to us. And how wonderful that Doren was present with you on that stage!

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Cathy Arden March 22, 2016 at 8:44 PM

Thanks,Amy! Mysterious and magical indeed.

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zsolt voros March 23, 2016 at 12:07 AM

Dear Cathy. Ah, you are such a unique passionate person, eternally poised, caring and loving, loving, attributes that will last forever together with you, that we all love you. And it is why your sister is also very lucky.

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Cathy Arden March 23, 2016 at 7:06 AM

Sweet of you to say, Zsolt. Thanks for reading.

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Susana Lannik March 23, 2016 at 2:54 AM

Wow Cathy
Definitely a message! It is really lovely that you still remember and remind us about Doren.
Love,
Susana

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Cathy Arden March 23, 2016 at 7:06 AM

Susana, happy you knew and remember her as well. xox

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John McEveety Woodruff March 23, 2016 at 4:33 AM

Doren was usually right, wasn’t she…

Love, john

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Cathy Arden March 23, 2016 at 7:05 AM

Good point, John! xox

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Laura Passarelli March 23, 2016 at 2:58 PM

Cathy,
You are a sensitive soul and your heart is open, allowing the spirit of your sister to be heard by you. Your book mark placed on that page was not an accident. She was with you on stage, she is with you now. I agree, “you belong on a stage”.

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Cathy Arden March 24, 2016 at 4:18 PM

Thank you, Laura, for reading and for your sweet comment.xox

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Barbara March 23, 2016 at 5:59 PM

Beautiful tribute, Cathy, and I’m sure Doren is smiling now, sending you love, just as she was during the entire run of the show. Lovely!

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Cathy Arden March 24, 2016 at 4:17 PM

Thank you, Barbara! xox

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