Tuesday, November 22, 2011


In 1967 I was a freshman at what we then called SUNY Albany. The fall was a magical time for me. I marvelled at, and revelled in, the college experience. I had made some new friends, found History, Spanish, Literature, Math, something called Sociology engaging enough, had, somehow, made the freshman basketball team, and began to appreciate the simple joy of a local tavern listening to yarns from fellow students as well as old timers who were, no doubt, twenty years younger than I am now.

On the Tuesday before Thanksgiving I decided to take a bus home and surpise my folks by arriving a day early. I got a ride to the bus station and took a Trailways to Port Authority arriving around 11. There I subwayed to Penn Station and took a late night train to Hicksville. From there I took a cab to our home.

I left my suitcase in the living room and tried silently to climb the stairs. I woke up my brother. He had been feeling under the weather and had just gotten to sleep. So, while happy to see me, he needed the sleep and now at about 2 in the morning I did too. Seconds later, I conked out in the twin bed that was "mine' in the bedroom we had shared as we grew up.

In the morning my father was readying himself to exit the house en route to work. There he saw my suitcase in the living room and bounced upstairs to see that I had come home in the middle of the night. He woke up my mother who was delighted to see me as well. She, excited, woke up again my poor brother, still not finished with his rest.

The thing is that all of them. My mother, father, and brother were excited about my return. We were together again. And it was this, far more than the turkey we ate the next day that was the most nourishing part of the holiday.

Love is the foundation. I am aware of my good fortune.

November 22, 2011

I can rarely remember where I place my wallet and keys. Ask me what I did one year ago this month and I will have to check my logbook--and this assumes I remembered to record what I did one year ago in my logbook. I need to write my passwords down on a sheet otherwise I would never be able to check my messages or get into my e-mail.

But ask me, or anyone of my vintage where I was 48 years ago today, and nobody, but nobody, will have trouble telling you exactly where they were when we heard the news.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

onslaughts--real and imagined

Last Saturday I was talking with my parents on the phone. My father writes to the family regularly with insightful comments about his philosophy on life. Earlier that day he had sent us a letter about how stress can be reduced by realizing that much of what causes stress are events that we anticipate, but do not typically occur. He referred to the Mark Twain quote that goes: I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. My brother had responded to this letter by sending several similar quotes.

If you see ten troubles coming down the road, you can be sure that nine will run into the ditch before they reach you. ~Calvin Coolidge

Some men storm imaginary Alps all their lives, and die in the foothills cursing difficulties which do not exist. ~Edgar Watson Howe

When we were speaking I mentioned the popular book that came out in the late nineties called, "Don't Sweat the Small Stuff* (*And it's all small stuff)

But it's NOT all small stuff. The author of the book, Richard Carlson, died at 45 when he suffered a blood clot in his lungs while on a plane. When the stuff is not small, but big, there is no balm.

The day after the phone call, I was reading the Sunday newspaper. I typically read the Sunday papers by first reading the Sports and second reading the book reviews. This indicates, very clearly, my priorities and hobbies. Joan Didion's book, Blue Nights, was reviewed. Blue Nights is a memoir about the death of her daughter. Previously she had written a memoir The Year of Magical Thinking about the death of her husband.

The review was beautifully written and included this line "The author as she presents herself here, aging and baffled, is defenseless against the pain of loss. [The book] is most provocative at another level, the level at which the author comes fully to realize, and to face squarely, the dismaying fact that against life's worst onslaughts nothing avails..."

I think this is so.

This week I wondered what it is like to be Joe Paterno. A man who was revered up until early this week and who now will forever, wrongly more than rightly, be linked to a scandal. Moreover, I wonder about those who were allegedly victimized by the accused perpetrator, Jerry Sandusky.

My father, as usual, is right about the therapeutic value of not worrying about things that are unlikely to happen. And Calvin Coolidge was right, nine out of ten troubles will not likely be troubling. But the tenth, even for the most resilient among us, is very difficult to overcome.