My Brother John: A Eulogy for the Living

For some months now, I have been ruminating on the writer John Podhoretz’s eulogy in Commentary magazine for his sister Rachel Abrams upon her death, from stomach cancer, at age sixty-two. Commentary effectively being the Podhoretz family house organ, and the Podhoretzes effectively being the mythological family of the origin of neoconservatism, the essay would be of interest to anyone interested in cultural and religious sociology—or at least to me.

I, too, come from a family that has also tended to think of itself in somewhat mythological, contrarian terms—This is what Langstons are like—so a meditation from the heart of another large, bustling family is an immediate and natural draw for me.

But lay that all aside. The eulogy wins, and haunts, because it is the passionate remembrance of a sister by her brother. Despite their being part of a prominent East Coast family, its focus is relentlessly on the small acts of family and home that transfigure quotidian existence. Podhoretz dwells lovingly on Rachel as a housewife, a lifetime foul-mouth, an exuberant and dedicated mother, an artist, and finally a writer who let loose with political commentary in her late fifties as online blogs began gathering steam.

“I loved you, Rachel,” he concludes poignantly, in words I could read over and over. “I liked you. And oh, oh, oh, how I admired you.”

So much of that poignancy is derived from direct address to his sister, who is no longer there to receive it. Having just hit forty-five Dante comes to mind: midway-through-the-journey-of-our-life-I found myself within a dark wood for the right way had been lost. Who can know how our days are numbered? The lesson for me is that I should tell of how I love my brother John, even as he lives.

[Read more...]

Sorting Through the Past

I’ve been cleaning out an attic—not my own—along with drawers, closets, shelves, storehouses, and barns —also, not my own, or at least not primarily. I don’t live here anymore, though I’ve always called this place home.

I’m doing these things in preparation for the sale of a farm that has been lived in continuously, and happily, for forty years. During that time, the house accumulated the contents of others’ houses, boxed up and moved in when the people who owned them grew sick and old and eventually died. Life was too busy to sort through all of it, so generation piled upon generation, like the Iron Age after the Bronze.

In the heat of a Southern summer, in the eaves of the old house, dimly lit and with little ventilation, old cardboard boxes must be gone through. They crumble and split at the touch, disintegrating like frail pastilles. The close air is heavy with the scent of insulation, musty paper, aged cloth, bitter red coins, and for some reason, the contents of ladies’ purses that I remember from my youth—the patent leather kind with hard metal clasps: Kleenex, face powder, rouge, lipstick, and mints. [Read more...]

The Moveable Feast of Memory

There are moments when you take stock of everyone and everything around you because you want to remember them for the rest of your life.

However impossible that actually is, you do it anyway. I think of it as civil disobedience against entropy, against whatever physical and chemical principles dictate the half-life of sense and memory.

I had a moment several nights ago, March 27, the debut of my friend Tearrance Chisolm’s play “In Sweet Remembrance.” It also happened to be a full moon. [Read more...]


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