If you really want to know someone, read their book — assuming they’ve gone to the trouble of writing one — and Jane Paley wrote a fine book. A few, in fact, but the one that best seemed to capture her bountiful spirit was “Hooper Finds a Family.” This was about a dog named Jimmy, who after having lost his family in Hurricane Katrina, was then thrown into the tumult of the world, and forced to find his way forward. Someone who rescued him advised, “life is a big adventure, little boy, and you have to go with the flow.”
By the time Jimmy had found himself in the loving embrace of someone named (incidentally) Jane, he’d come out the other side of fear, loss, confusion, alienation and despair. No longer “Jimmy,” he had a new name too: “Hooper.”
Hooper’s journey is what’s called a “monomyth,” which is something Jane probably had taught to her devoted and lucky students at St. John’s and Sacred Heart. This simply means that the protagonist of a story, or its “hero,” must go through a series of trials then “arrive from where we started and know the place for the first time” (to borrow the famous line from Eliot.) Triumphant, unbowed, but also chastened, with a keen sense of life’s tragedies and challenges, the hero will afterwards see “home” in an entirely different way — a refuge, a sanctuary, a forever home.
For Jane and for Hooper, Easton was that forever home.
I saw them often walking together — yes, Hooper was a real dog, his story a real one — with her head bowed slightly, his raised reverently towards her’s. They seemed to be in deep conversation, or communion, both brought together by the tumult of the world, reflecting on their journey and undoubtedly their immense good fortune. They had approached life as a big adventure, gone with the flow, and here they were, at long last, on a quiet country road in Easton.
Among her many gifts was the gift of empathy, and in “Hooper Finds a Family” Jane had re-imagined Hooper’s entire world. Published in 2011, the book went on to win a Christopher Award which “affirms the highest values of the human spirit,” according to the citation. Jane had found humanity in the real-life story of a rescue dog — her cherished Hooper — and succinctly located her own humanity in the process.
Not that Jane ever had far to look for that humanity. Not that any of us did either. It was always right there and not just on the page, but in life, in her relationships, and friendships. Her generosity was extraordinary, expressed in ways both large and small. Among those were the daily walks up the street with her friend, Bill Diamond, where they would feed apples to Henry, the donkey. (I wondered if she had a book in her about Henry. It too would have been a wonderful one.)
She joined Citizens for Easton almost immediately after moving to Easton and was especially (and immediately) drawn to ideas that would help others. Her annual Farm Tour would become the single most successful initiative in CFE’s 50 years. Meanwhile, she became an ardent support of Labs4Rescue, jumpstarted efforts to relaunch the Easton Courier, taught at Sacred Heart, took students on trips to Paris, began work on other books, volunteered in numerous efforts directed at saving Easton’s open spaces, and in countless ways — again both large and small — reached out to friends and neighbors to see how she might help them too. None of these efforts flagged after she was diagnosed with her illness three years ago.
But whenever I think of our beloved Jane, I will think of her beloved Hooper, and the last line of the book she poured so much of herself into as well:
“I have a real family now. It’s warm in the room and in this moment, it is warm in my heart. My family is together and we are all happy. The terrible storm of long ago is a distant memory. I’m safe and I’m home and I’m loved.”
Verne Gay, the president of CFE, is a friend and neighbor of Jane Paley, who died Nov. 12.
Editor’s note: Larry Price invites friends and neighbors to stop by and say hello at his Easton home on Saturday, Nov. 18, anytime from noon to 5 p.m., for an afternoon of conversation and remembrance of his late wife.