Trouble Called Again Last Night

Carphone useTrouble called again last Thursday night. The number illuminated in the landline phone’s small window. Mother. She’s eighty-four now. Father’s eighty-seven. They sold their house—where we lived when I was in in high school—about twenty-five years ago. Moved into a condo. They’re still living in the condo, independently.

A few nights earlier, during one of my routine every-other-day-or-so phone calls with her, Mom told me that Dad had a cold. He’d spent most of the day sleeping.

Dad’s a big guy, height and girth, though his impressive belly has deflated considerably over the last few years: a few hospitalizations, a diminished appetite. Though he doesn’t complain about it, he suffers from painful arthritis. With a cane, which he uses reluctantly, he shuffles around the condo, and inches his way from condo to car to restaurant to cardiologist to condo to couch for TV. He hardly has the strength to push himself up from the sofa. Gravity is calling him home.

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Wabi-sabi: Living with Beauty and Ugliness

Yesterday, a man might have killed me.

Both receptionists were away from the counter when I entered the waiting room for a physical therapy appointment. The waiting room, shared by several different offices, was lonely in mid-morning with only one man wearing all black and headphones sitting slightly hunched. I took a seat as far away as I could and picked up a magazine, anticipating a few minutes of quiet before my appointment.

The man was talking quietly, perhaps on a phone call, I thought, before turning my attention to the magazine and how someone had constructed a Japanese garden in a small space in the city. The article explained how the garden included the careful selection of plants, typically varying texture within the same palette of green, how boulders are placed to symbolize permanence, and rocks are used to represent a river. [Read more...]

Belief and Belonging

Last week I went and watched my son graduate from Virginia Boys State. After the ceremony, I waited through waves of boys in identical white shirts and blue shorts for him to emerge, and when he did, his shoulders were slouched and his eyes tired.

In the car I asked him, “How’d it go?”

He shrugged.

“Did you have a good time?”


“Did you learn anything?”


“Nothing at all?”

He said no, he hadn’t learned anything.

I kept pressing him, and eventually said, “If you had to give someone your takeaway from this past week in one sentence, what would it be?”

Without pause, he said, “[People of a certain philosophical/political stripe] are assholes.” [Read more...]

The Diameter of the Bomb

By the time this posts more than two weeks after the event, the Boston Marathon bombing will already have lost most of its impact upon those of us not affected first or secondhand.

Even today, less than seventy-two hours later, a time for shock has mostly given way—generally speaking—to a time for shopping.

And arguably for good reason, this being Mayor Giuliani’s mandate to his shell-shocked constituents, myself included, right after 9/11: get out and get shopping to show those terrorists that they cannot and will not degrade our way of life. [Read more...]

A Psalm for Surgery

Seamless, my passage through a day and from day to day: from dawn to dusk, from sleep to waking. Though sleep may be interrupted, the story of life, this life, my life continues uninterrupted.

From sand glazed by sun to the wet edge of sand (“in nature there are few sharp lines” writes A.R. Ammons in “Corsons Inlet”) where the thinnest sheet of water spreads over the feet, to full immersion in the Atlantic Ocean and back to the beach towel, the chair, the novel; from house to yard, empty wallet to loaded, stained teeth to polished, one motion.

Yes, time, my time, is calendared, gridded: slots for waking and sleeping, exercising and eating, teaching, grading, meeting, reading, watching, sitting (to meditate and pray, to receive and send), walking (down the hall, down the stairs, across the road, around the circle led by a dog), and lying down.

I move seamlessly from one grid to another: the grid of the academic year, the grid of the Jewish calendar, the grid of the American calendar, the grid of broadcast dayparting, the grid of medical care. [Read more...]