Tuesday, November 12, 2019

For Jim

On the occasion of his 90th birthday, my best friend Jim's sister asked me to write a few words for the scrapbook she was making.  Since friendships like ours are so precious, I'd like to share with you what I wrote.

I’m having lunch today with my best friend Jim.  We’ll probably go to a tavern where Jim will fuss about which beer to order.  He likes draft, of course.  A man of firm opinions, big and small, he doesn’t tease me anymore when I order a diet coke.

Jim is my partner at the bridge table and my partner in politics.  We have a lot to talk about.  Behind the conversation is my deep appreciation for this wonderful man.  He knows my family secrets because he prepared my will as a favor.  He’s seen me without makeup when he came to my rehab room on a lonely Saturday night.

The most important feeling in life is to feel included, right?  That’s what Jim and Phyllis have given to me.  Sharing a bit of this crazy life with Jim, how lucky is that?

I say “Thank God for Jim”, knowing that will prompt a very big laugh from this firm atheist.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Not in Time

There is a drug now for treating cystic fibrosis that is going to make it a "manageable disease." Not the death sentence anymore.  The results have been so promising that patients and even doctors are often in tears.  The FDA has leaped forward with approval.

I know a family -- a very rich and socially prominent couple -- who lost two children to cystic fibrosis.  Their lives were short and very difficult.  Another "lucky" child was spared.  Another was adopted.  (I guess not tempting fate.)

As I read the news today, my heart went out to that mom and dad.  They are oldsters now like me.  I'm sure they are thrilled with the news.  Maybe they will pull out a picture of their lost children and tell them about what time has made possible. I imagine it will be with a very bittersweet smile.

Sunday, October 27, 2019

You're Cancelled!

"Psst.  Wanna read my paper?"  Is this what Deep State people are going to whisper as they hide their Washington Post or New York Times?  Will their bosses be checking their desks and briefcases?

I know how Trump feels.  There have been too many times when I've longed to turn off the truth.  Your team loses, your boyfriend leaves, you drop the jar of pickles on your foot.  It hurts!

 Scientists started examining "truth," and have left us all confused.  Their microscopic view of reality is a collaboration between the observer and the observed.  Another huge distance between scientific fact and how we get through the day.

I like to think that censorship is futile.  Yet, I may have to face the fact that at the micro and the macro level, the "bubble" may prevail.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Better Because of Books?

I recently read an article that dives into the murky question:  does literature help us understand others?  Have more empathy?  The article begins hopefully with a quote from Joyce Carol Oates: “Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin.”

This is a challenging question with important consequences.  What do we demand from higher education?  Is reading being pushed out of our visual, digital world?

The idea that literature orients readers to the thoughts and feelings of others is something  we’ve lived with for a very long time.   Psychologists are now trying to test it in the lab. I wasn’t totally surprised that they fall back on the “chicken or egg” position:

“A lifetime of reading might make people better at imagining other people’s thoughts and emotions, or those who are more in tune with other people’s states of minds might be drawn to reading fiction in the first place. Or, a completely unrelated variable might explain the correlation.”

My friends Carole and Camille, both lifelong readers, gave me a total thumbs up.  “Yes, and studies prove it.”  And, “yes, absolutely!”  

Stuart is thoughtful: “I can have empathy even with characters that I don't like because I can sense the complexity of their motivations.    I do think that it carries over to everyday life, though in subtle, subconscious ways.”  

I liked Gerry’s response: “It depends on who is doing the reading.” With humility, he relies on himself for the empathy.

What do you think?

I agree with all of my friends.  As for the tests, I don’t think that everything can be measured.  I’m content with conjecture or hope.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

Mr. Music

The one thing you learned about my friend early on is that he loved classical music.  The walls in his living room were covered by hundreds of CDs.  He knew what the Chicago Symphony Orchestra was playing and was in the audience regularly.  He could tell you about the members of the orchestra, past and present. He had even interviewed some of the great conductors.

Several months ago at lunch my friend revealed that a doctor had made a medical mistake that had rendered him “hard of hearing.”  When we met recently he filled me in on his “hard of hearing” life. Yes, he had hearing aids.  And yes, he was still seeking treatment.

What he said next caught me by surprise. “I was depressed for awhile because I was having so much trouble listening to my music.  I couldn’t get it right. Meditation helped with my depression but not enough.  Then one day I decided to give it up.  To put music aside completely.   I discovered that I am still complete. I’m going on with my life.”

My friend was matter of fact as he told me his story.  I was excited.  Thrilled even.  No victimhood.  No demand to be celebrated as a hero.

Life promises us nothing.  It’s up to each one of us to fill in the blanks.  Thanks for the reminder, my friend.

Monday, October 14, 2019


When the systems we have in place to obtain "justice" fail us, eruptions are bound to occur.  Eventually, people are driven to take it upon themselves to restore some balance.  Some gather together to march and engage in public protest. Others act individually. Their tools of last resort are shame, ridicule or refusal to participate.

Athletes refuse to go to the White House to celebrate their excellence.
Musicians refuse to allow their music to be played.
When people who are "getting away with it" appear in public, they are booed.

In the face of failure,  we at least demand that the pardoned or the escaped retreat to their private privilege.

For this, are we now "unkind"?

Wednesday, August 28, 2019


I just finished reading the article in the New Yorker about Esalen and tech.  The inventors and CEO's are pondering "What have we wrought?" They are attending workshops (called playshops), meditating, and engaging in earnest conversation. They realize they've been messing with our brains.

It reminds me of when Al Gore travelled the world sounding the alarm about global warming and how we were messing with the planet.  It was punctuated by Melissa Etheridge's stirring song.  Seems like a long time ago doesn't it?  And, maybe it's too late.

 When is being smart too dangerous?  Could we even have stopped ourselves in mid-stride?
Again, the essential questions.