Tag Archives: Family

Returning to the Donut….MMMMMMM….Donuts.

11 Aug

About a year ago, I posted the news of my impending, and what now seems to have become an annual, Petscan. Well, it’s time for another one.  A text to my oncologist in late  June began the process.  Three weeks later, when I hadn’t even received a notice from my insurance company delaying the procedure (a common occurence),  I texted my oncologist again and learned that either he or the folks at the lab slightly misspelled my name.  So some guy named Eric Greenburg, or Erich Greenberg, or Erick Greenburgh got a referral for my scan.  So we began again.  This time, success!  A week after my text, the insurance company sent me an e-mail delaying my procedure by 45 days while they research the need for the test.  Then a week later, the referal arrived. Earlier this week I called the scan place,  spoke to the same guy I spoke to last year (which was kind of comforting), and made my appointment.  Thursday, August 18th, first thing in the morning. 

And so the process begins.  On Wednesday morning I start a 24 hour carb fast.  Not even a piece of fruit until I am done with the scan on the 18th.  On the 18th I am given radioactive sugar, and then placed into what looks like a large donut as they test the size and metabolic activity of my tumor (a structure that one of my friends assures me is my ancestors seeking to live close to my heart–I love that idea).   Then scantasia begins, my family’s celebratory embrace of all the carbs I couldn’t eat the day before.  A flavored coffee and muffin in the morning, Italian food at night.  Then we wait a week for the results, which I am always nervous about no matter how certain I am of thier positive outcome, and, God willing, have Scantasia part 2, the celebration of good news.

As you may recall, last year in an effort to drag all of you into my life and my concerns, I called on all of you to make the day before my scan a carb-filled wonderland for you and yours.  You may not think that stuff like that matters, but  I certainly can’t argue with the results of the scan.  So I am calling on all of you to return to this evolving tradition.  On Wednesday, August 17th, I call on all of my family and friends to double down on their carb intake.  Have some pizza, some pasta, a hoagie (or sub, or grinder). If you are a hipster, please curate a selection of locally brewed, artisinal IPAs and the drink every last one of them.  Or, if you’re like me, have a whole mess of cookies.  When you do, I will feel your good wishes, and that helps my state of mind a lot.  Maybe this year you could take some pictures of your carbs and share them on Facebook?  It might seem like a cruel taunt at my carbless existence, but I think I would dig it. 

Whatever you choose to do or not do, just know that I appreicate your interst, kindness, and support. Naturally I will share the results of the scan as soon as I get them.

As Always….Stay Tuned.

 

Back to Blogging

22 Jun

For the Blog

A couple of years ago, I wrote a blog post that explained my three week absence from blogging.  At that time a friend of mine asked on Facebook, “Am I expected to read a blog about why you didn’t write a blog?”  Good question, and I suppose he didn’t have to read my blog, but as a good friend, he did.  So I apologize to that friend in advance, because, once again, I write this blog to explain why I haven’t blogged.

 It’s been a long time since I last wrote and posted a blog….a very long time.  By my count it’s been about 10 months, when I announced the result of September’s Petscan. A lot has happened since then. In personal news, my daughter travelled to Israel, where she lived and studied for nine months.  Amy and I learned to live in an empty nest without too much trouble.  The New York Giants had an awful season, revealing their complete lack of an NFL caliber defense.  And I have spent much of the past academic year teaching California history at a local university part time, which is fun, but also very time consuming and frustrating.  In the broader world….well, you all know what’s gone on in the broader world—a dismaying election cycle that seems to signal the rise of the demagogue as a legitimate type of candidate in American politics, a growing divide between rich and poor that makes our current age seem very much like the late nineteenth century’s gilded age, and never ending violence and terrorism at home and abroad, just to name a few.  And all of this Emma’s trip, the changes to our household, the teaching, the election, all of it, has kept me from blogging for the past ten months. Let me explain.

First, I have found it difficult to blog for personal reasons. Like I said, a lot has happened over the past ten months, but not all of it happened to me.  My daughter has learned a number of important lessons about life and living on her own. My wife spent much of the Fall getting back on her feet after her terrible bout with pancreatitis and the other issues that arose from that horrible illness.  And Amy and I both spent nine months without a child around figuring out what married life is like when parenting is no longer the prime directive. All of these experiences are filled with stories—some painful, some funny, some depressing, others uplifting—but most of these stories are not mine to tell.  They happened to someone else, or they are personal moments that I shared with others, and so to tell those stories feels wrong, like I would be violating someone’s privacy.  That was never the intention of this blog.  Over the past few years the point of this blog has been to share my thoughts, my concerns, my fears, and my happiness and to see how that public sharing is received and how it helps me learn and grow.

The election has kept me from blogging too.  To be clear I have discussed politics regularly—especially on Facebook—but I have not found the experience beneficial. I have spent the past ten years or so of my life trying to keep my discourse and engagement reasonable and respectful, but these days American politics knows no reason nor respect. This is true for the politicians and the public, and for the right and the left.  Naturally Donald Trump and his supporters are the most severe examples of this new political tone, but one cannot ignore the vitriol hurled at Hillary Clinton from the left nor the frustrated jibes from Clintonites (like me) aimed at Sanders and the Sanderistas. Since the New York primary many of us believe that Bernie’s campaign and the actions and outbursts of the so called Bernie Bros have been driven by destructive hubris rather than productive care and concern, and our language has reflected that frustration.  I have gotten into a number of discussions and debates this election year, and each time I do I feel angry, frustrated, hopeless, and even a little dirty.  I am not naïve enough to believe that American politics are historically decent and noble, but these days the rules of political engagement seem to have changed considerably. People are angrier, meaner, less respectful, and when I find myself in the midst of these debates I feel angrier, meaner, and less respectful too.  I surely have no desire to spend my time blogging angry and feeling awful, and so politics have been off the table as well.

Even if I could find an appropriate topic for blogging, I have had very little time to dedicate to such an enterprise.  As I mentioned above, I have been teaching this year, this in addition to my full time job at the museum.  I have taught three back to back quarters of California history, which has been great fun, but my preparation, grading, and the demands of my students have taken up a lot of my free time.  As Amy can attest, I have spent most Monday evenings grading quizzes and most of the rest of the week grading papers or reading the week’s assigned readings.  Sure I have read this material in the past….numerous times, but I am also 51 and my memory is less photographic than I would like, so every week I read the homework assignments along with my students—well along with those students who actually take the time to read…there seem to be fewer and fewer of those students every year.

Throughout it all, Emma’s trip, the election, the teaching, and everything else that has happened this year, I have wanted to blog.  Blogging connects me to my broad network of friends (particularly those who live a great distance from me). Writing in a format lengthier than the average Facebook post helps me think things through, and as always, there is a lot to think about.  And of course, blogging has been a way for me to share the never ending saga of the lemon sized tumor in my chest and my, now, annual requirement to have my body scanned to see if anything has changed.  One of my greatest concerns about my failure to blog is that my little corner of the virtual universe will become merely a place for me to share test results. Indeed, sometime this week I will reach out to my oncologist to arrange my next Petscan (the first one in ten months). 

But I want this blog to be more than that.  I want to return to my earlier focus on writing, on the ability to communicate well, to be more vulnerable and honest, and to share my thoughts and thinking.   Recently one of my yoga teachers (yes I take yoga now, and I love it) described the practice as an investigation into two essential questions—what is my purpose? and what makes me happy? (I probably got that wrong, but I think I captured the essence of her statement).  Prior to her comments, I had always thought of yoga as bound up in other questions like, “Why does that hurt so much?” or “Will I ever be able to bend that deeply?” and other such inquiries.  But my teacher’s point resonated with me. Whatever its outward rewards, when I am at my most relaxed and engaged, yoga helps me to focus and think more clearly, and in my most successful moments of yoga I have had some initial thoughts about purpose and happiness.  I think our purpose in this world is to be as fully present and fully engaged with the moment and the world around us as possible.  Too often our ability to appreciate life and each other is obstructed by our inability (or at least my inability) to think about the here and now.  Too much of life, mine and the lives of other people I know, is bound up in endless worry about things that have happened or may happen in the future.  I think we are at our happiest when we can appreciate the moment, any moment, more fully.

Yoga helps develop the focus and calm necessary to being fully present and engaged (to say nothing of how great it’s been for relieving the many aches and pains that come with aging and being overweight), but blogging helps, too.  Sure, very often my blogs are obsessed with the unfixable past and the unknowable future, but the process still keeps me deeply engaged with my thoughts and the process of thinking. And coming to really know and understand my thinking has a beneficial effect on me. Writing a blog is a days-long enterprise.  I take an idea and I work it out on the page.  The more I write, reread, and edit my work, the more in tune I become with my thoughts, the clearer my focus becomes, and I am able to articulate my ideas more clearly and fully.  Overtime, I begin to understand things about myself that I did not know, and the comments from friends and other readers reminds me just how lucky I am to know so many wonderful, thoughtful people. It’s a kind of meditation, one that I have missed.  For the past ten months I haven’t had that experience in my life, and I really would like to regain it.  For now, I suspect, my blog will once again focus on my upcoming Petscan, but I am going to do my best to get back into the process of thinking and writing.  I apologize in advance for those of you who feel obliged to read my work.  I appreciate your patience and willingness to spend a few minutes reading my latest rant, and I thank you for your time and your friendship.

 

As always…stay tuned.

A Less Than Modest Proposal

2 Sep

Baagel Doughnut

In an effort to generate a little positive energy and test the boundaries of my considerable hubris, I would like to declare September 2nd“Eat Carbs for Erik” day.

As some of you may recall, I have my PET scan on Thursday the 3rd.  For those not familiar with the process, the PET depends upon the fact that tumors and other forms of inflammation metabolize sugar at much greater rates than the rest of your body.  The day before the procedure you abstain from all carbohydrates, and on the day of the scan, the medical technician pumps a syringe of radioactive sugar into your bloodstream, which then gets quickly metabolized by your tumor.  So that’s what I’m getting ready for, and it begins with a day without carbs…then a 6 am check in, a 7:30 or so injection, an 8:30 scan, and a 9:30 muffin and caramel latte.  Then we await the results, which I hope and pray are good, and then on to Scantasia!

I call on all readers of my blog, all people in my social universe, indeed all people on the planet to spend September 2nd ingesting and enjoying bready, sugary, creamy, carby treats. And when you do, please think of me. Have a bagel for me!  Have a doughnut for me.  Have a waffle, a roll,  or a pancake for me!  Have a cookie for me, actually, take two, they’re small.  Overcome your South Beach, Atkins, Paleo, Gluten abstinence, 21st century diets and dive into the cornucopia of carbs.  And when you do, when you taste that delicious sweetness, send some positive thoughts my way.  I swear I will feel them.  Who knows, maybe I will even taste them!  And I will be forever grateful. 

As Always….stay tuned.

A Blessing in Disguise: My Postponed Petscan and Our Difficult Summer

15 Aug

WIN_20131105_064915If you’re doing the math and paying scrupulous attention to my scanning schedule, then you’ve probably noticed that I am a few months behind on my biannual scanathon (scansation, scancapade?).  In truth, if you are doing the math and paying attention to those kinds of details, you probably need to develop some hobbies to pass your time more pleasantly….but I digress.  Over the spring, several friends and family suggested I ask the oncologist if I really needed to be seen twice a year, or could we move to an annual scan schedule.  He did not go for it, and suggested I have the PET in August instead of June.  At the time a two month reprieve felt like a pretty lame consolation prize, but it turned out to be a blessing in disguise. 

As some of you know, May and June were an incredibly difficult time for the West Coast Greenbergs. July and much of August were no picnic either, but May and June were brutal. For those who have followed our family’s comings and goings on Facebook, you know that Amy was terribly ill with pancreatitis, a brutally painful condition that I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  Seriously, over the course of my life I have only witnessed three people suffer tremendous physical pain. I have a friend who went through extended and unbelievable suffering with some slipped discs in his lower back.  In my father’s last days he suffered greatly from pressure in his brain brought on by a relentless advance of melanoma, and then there’s Amy’s suffering brought on by an inflamed pancreas whose own enzymes were eating away at its tissue.  Just awful. Her’s may have been the worst suffering I have ever witnessed.  

Amy’s illness required a lengthy and arduous recovery. She had two extended stays in hospital, one for four days and one for ten. Both stays required lengthy fasts (the cure for pancreatitis is to give your pancreas a rest, and so Amy was on nothing but IV fluids for four or five days at a time).   She was forced to radically change her diet, dramatically reducing her fat intake and eliminating alcohol altogether.  She lost about 10% of her body weight, and she was out of work for more than a month. Her suffering was heartbreaking, her recovery slow and tense, and the whole experience has left both of us depleted and even a little depressed. There really are no words to express what it’s like to see the women you have spent the better part of your life with, the person you watched bring life into this world, be taken down so powerfully and painfully.  The first morning she was in the hospital, I burst into tears, and I have felt pretty unsteady ever since.  Naturally Amy felt even worse! The whole experience defies explanation, which may be why I have been so reluctant to blog about it.  Only now, over two months after her initial attack, has our family and its routines begun the return to normalcy (whatever that is).

Truth is, nothing about this summer has been normal. We entered this season knowing that towards its close Emma would leave us for a lengthy gap year program in Israel (9 months to be exact).  I am simultaneously thrilled and sad about this.  Thrilled because I think it is a wonderful opportunity for her to strike out on her own so far away from home, to learn new things, meet new people, and to understand what it’s like to live in what I have found to be a wonderful but difficult and frustrating country.  I am sad for a number of reasons, including the fact that the physical distance between us will make all things more difficult, from being able to help her in a time of emergency to just talking on the phone.  I am sadder still because her departure signals the end of an era in our lives.  No matter what happens when Emma returns, if she stays with us for a few more years, or if she heads off to a school a great distance from us, we are fast approaching the moment when our daughter’s interests, employment, and commitments will become more pressing to her than time spent with us.  To be clear, I am not saying that Emma will not dedicate time to her parents, maybe even a lot of time.  Still, I’ve been where she is now.  So many things compete for our attention and interest as we become adults—friends, partners, school, work schedules, children.  These things become all-consuming and make demands of us that often tear us away from our closest and most immediate family. I miss the days when Amy and I were Emma’s whole world—her teachers, protectors, and caretakers, her most hilarious entertainment, her tour guides through life, and her most comforting security blankets. No doubt our relationship began to change years ago, but her upcoming departure (less than two weeks from the time I wrote this piece) has reinforced just how fluid and uncertain our roles in Emma’s life have become.

Ultimately, not having my scan in June turned out to be a blessing.  I can’t imagine what it would have been like to add the stress and worry that invariably accompanies my scan (no matter how confident I am of its positive outcome) with the tremendous stress and worry we all felt about and for Amy and the difficult mix of joy, sadness, and uncertainty that surrounds Emma’s trip to Israel.  Nevertheless it has to be done, and it will be soon enough.  Per his request, I recently texted my oncologist. The imaging office called me a few days later to set up the appointment.  September 2nd is my carb free day, and my scan takes place early on the 3rd.  The results show happens sometime the following week, and shortly thereafter, God willing, Scantasia, our semiannual celebration of what I hope will be continued good news.  

By that time, Amy, Emma, and I will be about a week into our new lives, each of us trying to adapt to the significant shift in our family dynamic.  The one thing that I know that will not change is our love for each other.  When I told Emma of my impending scan, she insisted that I call her the minute I get the results.  That request was extremely comforting, and naturally I will reach out to her and the rest of my family the minute I hear the news.  Shortly after that, I will tell all of you.  Your continued prayers and words of support mean a great deal to me.  Now, more than ever, everyone in my family could use some good wishes and positive vibes. 

As always….stay tuned.

She’s Leaving Home

7 May

About a month ago, Amy and I took our daughter to the airport for her first solo trip across the continent.  For a little more than a week, Emma exchanged one set of crazy family members on the West Coast for a set of equally crazy family members in the New York Tri State area.  No big deal, right?  She’s 18, perfectly capable of getting around on her own, and she was in good hands with our family back East—at the very least she was in no worse hands than if she were right here at home with her meshuganah  parents.   But as we walked her to the security line at LAX (an airport I despise almost as much as I hate the wildly inconvenient JFK in New York), I became a little melancholy, a little clingy, and even a little weepy.  To be clear, I didn’t have a full blown meltdown—nothing like it.  Instead, I found myself balancing on that emotional razor’s edge between the great joy and pride I feel for the young woman my daughter has become, and the great melancholy I feel for the loss of our little girl who has, seemingly in the blink of an eye, disappeared from view. 

For a few years, now, it seems that my entire relationship with Emma is a balancing act, a joyous, frustrating, reassuring, and unsettling effort to figure out the shifting borders of parental and filial authority, accountability, knowledge, expertise, and wisdom, while simultaneously reassuring each other of our mutual love.  She is a bright, confident young woman with an impressive range of interests, tastes, and passions, and I am a somewhat overly sensitive, frequently anxious, and excessively self-reflective middle aged man who, up until recently, was accustomed to being her teacher, mentor, and (in conjunction with my wife, of course)  undisputed authority on expectations concerning her conduct and behavior.  Perhaps I am fooling myself on that last part, but at least Amy and I had the power to reward and punish into Emma’s mid-teens. 

Today our roles are fluid.  Frequently, Emma is my teacher.  She has introduced me to the joys of spoken word poetry, Buzzfeed, and Dr. Who.  She has opened my eyes to the difficulties and indignities suffered by young women, and she has helped me better understand the range of social-sexual categories claimed by a generation of young women and men who refuse to be pigeon-holed into society’s expectations of hetero and homo sexuality.  I am continually impressed by the depth of her intellect and emotional intelligence.  That is not to say that I have nothing to offer in return.  I do.  Emma still has much to learn about deli, pizza, and, of course, cookies.  Like my father before me, I have introduced her to the joys of classical music and opera.  I struggle mightily to turn her into a proper New York Giants fan, but, sadly, to no avail. Since, at different times, I have been a very bad and a very good student, and a teacher, I have many lessons to offer about the right and wrong ways to get through college, about communicating with her professors, proper study habits, doing research, critically assessing sources, and developing a more sophisticated “written voice.”  And, most significantly, Amy and I spend a fair amount of time teaching Emma to develop a greater sense of personal responsibility and self-direction, while sharing with her the difficult ironies and sometimes harsh realities of life.

Precisely how we share these lessons with Emma, and how much credence she is willing to give to our words of wisdom, has become a source of uncertainty and contention.  For several years, now, our parental authority has diminished, as Emma develops her own insights into and opinions on what is appropriate, right, and fair.  She is an Angeleno, and like so many born and raised in this city, her sense of time and punctuality are at odds with mine (native Angelenos are routinely late).  We frequently bicker over what time she should leave the house in order to get somewhere on time. We differ over the relative urgency of a range of issues from the cleanliness of her car and room, to the appropriate amount of time it takes to respond to e-mails.   And when our opinions differ, we clash—emotions run high, arguments ensue, and feelings get hurt (sometimes hers and sometimes mine).   Moments of anger and frustration are soon followed by moments of deep sadness and regret (at least on my end…I can’t speak for Emma).  And while Emma continues to give every indication that she will be an extraordinary adult, something inside me continually worries about how she will make her way in the world.  Those worries lead to criticisms, which I know annoy her.  But for God’s sake, I’m her father, how can I hold my tongue?  I am sure that Emma, and probably Amy, would tell me that it’s quite easy and that I should just shut my big mouth every once in a while.

Added to all of these fears, frustrations, and anxieties is the reality that Emma will leave us soon. Her trip to New York was the first in what will be a series of departures.  This August she will leave for a nine month gap year program in Israel.  Her return to Los Angeles, and to our home, will be a temporary respite from her ongoing journey, as she will no doubt leave us for college, work, and, someday, to start her own family.  That knowledge fills each exchange, each laugh, each hug, each argument, each tear, each moment with a sense of urgency and importance that both frightens and excites me.   My daughter is entering a new phase in her life, a phase that has diminished, and will continue to diminish, my ability to influence, inform, and (of greatest significance) protect her.  As we continue down our respective paths, any relationship we have will be driven far more by mutual choice than mutual obligation.

Naturally, I have been on the other side of that relationship dynamic.  Like all parents and children, my folks and I went through a fairly tumultuous transition period, one that didn’t really get sorted out until my mid-thirties.  I was pretty obnoxious to them, and in some ways my continued residence in LA well after it became clear that I stood almost no chance of succeeding in the entertainment business was a way for me to avoid them.  Today, of course, I live here because of all the personal and professional networks we’ve established in the City of Angels, but I feel and regret the great physical distance that separates me from my East Coast family quite keenly.  This was particularly true when my dad was dying, but the feeling continues to trouble me as I watch my mother and I, both, get older.  I really wish that I had come around sooner, that I had come to see one of the most important facts about the relationship between parents and children, namely that our time together is a great gift and is limited by forces well beyond our control.  I have tried to convey this and other important lessons to Emma, and I think she gets it.  Nevertheless, as I watch her begin her journey into adulthood, I begin to wonder if she will want to spend time with me as I age and decline. 

When I share these thoughts with the parents of grown children, they remind me that our job as parents is to prepare our children for a world without us.  One memorable discussion with the parent of two kids in their late twenties directed me to the insights of the great poet Khalil Gibran.  In his epic poem, The Prophet, Gibran tells us the following about the relationship between parents and children.

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.

I suspect I could have just shared these verses at the beginning of this essay and been done with my post.  While I cannot say for certain that the words are true, they somehow say so much about the great paradox of parenting, a riddle that gets more confusing every day.

As always….stay tuned.

The Opera, My Father, and Me

31 Oct

About two months ago, I went to the opening night of the Los Angeles Opera, Verdi’s La Traviata, set in 1920s Paris.  To be clear, I’m not trying to brag, here.  I am not the kind of person who has the money or the inclination to purchase tickets for such grand and glamorous events.  I just lucked out. My colleagues at the opera offered me free tickets.  As I often tell my wife, every now and again there are perks to knowing me…and this was one of those rare occasions.  Truth is I haven’t been to the opera in years.  At one time, though, the opera was an integral part of my everyday life.  For many years, my parents were subscribers to New York’s Metropolitan Opera.  As well, some of you likely know that in my youth I studied voice at some of the nation’s most renowned conservatories (I failed out of those conservatories, too, but that’s a story for another time).  And so, sitting there at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, my mind was filled with countless memories about the opera, my on again off again love affair with musical performance, and, of greatest importance, my family.

Watching opening night of La Traviata, a powerful current of memory almost overwhelmed me, as I thought about uncomfortable childhood nights sitting in ill-fitting suits at the Met, watching productions that seemed overly dramatic and insanely long…at least that’s how they seemed to my nine-year old brain at the time.  I recalled my adolescence and my growing appreciation of the opera, of my interest in specific composers, singers, conductors, and directors.  I remembered, too, my brief and ill-fated career as a student of classical vocal repertoire and how uncomfortable I felt among the many talented hopefuls in New York’s classical music scene.  And, above all else, I remembered my father, the man who deserves much of the credit for my love and study of music.

My dad was an opera fanatic.  His passion for the art was remarkable and one of the more distinct and memorable features of his persona.  No doubt some of my childhood friends, as well as the friends of my two sisters, will remember my dad blaring the Met’s Saturday afternoon radio broadcasts as he whined along (he surely couldn’t sing) and conducted with his own baton, a birthday present from my sisters and me. In all likelihood, dad had been to the Met the previous Tuesday evening, and so there’s a good chance that he had already heard and seen the operas that blared throughout the halls of 56 Sterling Rd on any given Saturday.  Had he lived a different life, had he delayed marriage and family, I suspect that my dad would have found some way into opera research, production, or management.  He was just that passionate and knowledgeable.  Indeed, one of my fondest memories of my dad concerns a backstage tour we took of the Met many years ago.  In one of the scene shops (which used to be onsite in those days) we came across a sketched out backdrop of a colonial Boston street scene.  Everyone in the room scratched their heads as they tried to figure out what obscure work in the classical repertoire was set in Boston.  Indeed, even our guide was utterly befuddled. Then my dad observed that in the 19th century, European productions of Verdi’s Un Ballo en Maschera, a work that depicts the assassination attempt of a Swedish monarch, would often be set in colonial Boston.  Apparently depicting the assassination of a monarch was unacceptable in mid to late 19th century European productions, but the assassination of a colonial governor was just fine.  That was my dad.  He possessed an encyclopedic knowledge of the opera and an oversized love and admiration for the art form and its practitioners.

I, on the other hand, was less enamored of the opera.  Over time I came to enjoy it, of course, but I lacked dad’s all consuming passion for the art form.  And without that passion one really can’t succeed as a classical musician.  The careful study of scores, the daily practice, the intense care one must dedicate to protecting one’s voice, it was just too much for me, and there were others who were far more passionate, disciplined, and in truth, more talented than I was.  And so by my early twenties, I had stopped studying voice, taken up the study of acting, and, over time, the opera ceased to be a part of my life. Still, opera lives inside me.  I know the plot lines to most of the standard works in the classical repertoire, I can recognize countless arias after having heard just a few notes, and I still get a chill listening to Puccini’s La Boheme (Puccini was and continues to be my favorite opera composer).  My appreciation of the opera is a portion of my patrimony, a legacy forcefully and passionately bequeathed to me by my father. And so when offered the chance to attend the opera this fall, I went.

It was a great night.  It was nice to be at such a grand event with my wife and daughter. I saw numerous friends and colleagues.  The production was fun, and the music is still as beautiful and powerful as I remembered it.  Most rewarding of all, while sitting in that vast music hall enjoying the sometimes glorious, sometimes awkward, always exciting merger of grand music and grand theater I thought about the opera, my father, and me and the way in which the art form played such an important role in our relationship as father and son. Lost in that reverie, for a brief moment, I saw my father’s soul.

This last claim, my maudlin assertion that I could see my father’s soul, likely requires some explanation.  My father died in 2008, after a lengthy battle with melanoma.  Over the past six years, I have had a hard time recalling my father in any context other than his rapid decline in the two or so months that preceded his death.  To be sure, we all have wonderful stories about my dad, about his peculiarities, his temper, his sense of humor, his love of dogs and little kids, and, of course, I have photos of my father to remind me of what he looked like at different stages in his life.  But what is absent from my mind, is a recollection of the kinetic totality of my dad, of the way that words, and movement, and thought, and emotion, and other ineffable qualities combined to form his unique being, his essence, his soul. I have some vague memories of his bearing during his illness, of his labored breathing, his terrible frustration with his physical deterioration, and of his dips in and out of conscious thought.  But for years now I seem unable to capture in my mind some fuller sense of my father in his younger, healthier days…until I went to the opera.

As the lights fell and the overture began, a vision came to my mind’s eye, a vision of my dad sitting in a similarly darkened theater, his attention riveted on the stage, his occasional look over to me to confirm that I was still awake.  I recalled strolling across the large and beautiful plaza at Lincoln Center with its signature fountains.  I could see and hear snippets of my dad telling me the synopsis of this or that work—an experience that, as a child, I often found far more entertaining than the actual performance. And most specifically, I remembered meeting my dad for a pre-opera dinner one night on New York’s Upper West Side.  I was 23, living in Memphis Tennessee, and had just come into town for Christmas.  When I arrived at the restaurant my dad looked at me and smiled this big, genuine and loving smile.  Just writing about it makes me tear up a little bit. I saw all this and more, that night.  Throughout the evening I caught glimpses of dad as a young and healthy person deeply engaged in the one hobby he embraced more passionately than New York Giants’ football.  The whole experience was fulfilling and quite moving.

I had no idea that the opera had meant that much to me, that it had become an ethereal link between my earthly life and my father’s soul.  It has, though, and so I suspect it is time for me to return to it….not as a singer, of course, that’s just nuts.  No, I suspect it is time for me to embrace my father’s legacy.  To listen to more works of opera, to whine along with the arias I know and love, to conduct an invisible orchestra, and to close my eyes for just a minute and see my father.

As always…stay tuned.

Gratitude in Tough Times

4 Aug

 

keep-calm-have-an-attitude-of-gratitude

 

It’s been a tough summer…a tough summer in the middle of a tough, tough year.  War in Israel, mass slaughter in Syria, a passenger plane shot out of the sky—the horrible collateral damage of an ongoing war in Ukraine.  Here at home our government has devolved into hyperbolic political theater, as our Congress adopts a well-practiced posture of outrage and contempt, and our President seems quite incapable of stewarding the roll-out of his signature healthcare legislation (it’s true my liberal friends. I know too many young people who have had an incredibly difficult time with “Obamacare” to pretend otherwise).  On the personal side of the tough-times ledger there is my ongoing engagement with health, healthcare, and well-being.  I have a lemon-sized tumor in my chest, which fortunately is not cancer and has not grown but can still scare the bejesus out of me from time to time.  I am poked, and prodded, and scanned, by doctors on a regular basis.  I have developed a touch of arthritis in my spine (up around my neck) and must see a physical therapist once a week.  Beyond health and well-being I have experienced other types of personal challenge and sadness, as well.  Those who are regular readers of this blog know that recently an old friend was killed in a terrible car crash down in Texas.  And then, just a few weeks ago, another old friend died.  This death was not as shocking as the loss of my former classmate.  The person in question was a docent from our museum, and he was almost 90 years old at the time of his passing.  Still, he was a good guy.  I had known him for years, and I liked him very much.  He was kind, pleasant, charming, and baked cookies every week for the docent corps (and for me).  Such commitment to the culinary arts should not go unnoticed or unapplauded.  Like I said…a good guy.  When I learned of his passing, I turned to a colleague and exclaimed, “My God could this summer get any worse!!!???” 

As the words left my mouth I already regretted saying them.  First of all, things could, and have, gotten worse.  The war between Israel and Gaza goes on, bringing terrible loss of life and sadly sowing the seeds for decades of mistrust and anger on both sides. Syria has gotten no better.  Ukraine has gotten worse.  Fifty, some odd, thousand kids from Central America, some of whom will receive refugee status, others of whom will be sent home, live in a legal and existential limbo in detention centers near our southern border while the politicians continue to feign outrage and concern but do little else as they prepare their rhetoric for the coming election.  Then, last week, in a kind of cosmic slap in the face, a water main break at UCLA wasted some 10 million gallons of water—this in the midst of an ongoing drought in California (we’re at four years and counting). Like I said…tough times.

But my regret at having implored the heavens also emerged from a second reality that had nothing to do with these worsening circumstances.  I regretted asking if things could get any worse because to do so was to ignore the many blessings that exist in my life and the world.  My bizarre condition has not proven eminently dangerous, but rather a medical oddity that has put me in touch with some wonderful, attentive doctors and has generated expressions of kindness and concern from around the world.  This summer, I turned fifty, and that milestone has been marked by really wonderful celebrations in LA and NY, granting me the privilege of spending happy times with friends and family.  Indeed, just recently I spent the day with old friends from my high school days, people I haven’t seen in years.  We ate and drank to excess, shared stories about our lives and our children, and in general just had a good time.  I have a loving and supportive family, a rewarding and engaging job, two crazy dogs, and a host of other blessings that make me one of the luckier people on this planet.  Even the passing of my docent friend came with its own set of blessings.  He lived a long life.  His death was neither incredibly sudden (he kind of faded away over an 18 month period) nor cruel, painful, or prolonged (he was at the museum every week for all but the last few months of his life, and I understand that his passing was painless and peaceful).  I was lucky to know him for as long as I did, and he will live in my memory and the memory of countless others who toured the museum with him, knew him personally, or ate his cookies. 

In the wider world things remain pretty bleak, but there are still small signs of hope.  We have seen a kind of radical empathy emerge from the awful murders of the Israeli and Palestinian teenagers whose deaths signaled the beginning of this most recent war.  Some three hundred Israelis travelled to the home of the bereaved Palestinian parents to mourn their loss and let the world know that such heinous acts are unacceptable to many in Israeli society.  Across the globe, Jews and Arabs have participated in the “Jews and Arabs Refuse to be Enemies” initiative.  In America, tolerance and legal acceptance of and for marriage equality is on the upswing, and our nation’s damaging and expensive war on drugs seems to be winding down.  At the very least, the nation’s politicians are beginning to rethink the political calculus of the “tough on drugs” rhetoric and legislation that began in earnest in the 1980s.  And in a somewhat mixed blessing, football season begins soon.  While I continue to worry about the ways in which the sport has damaged the lives of many athletes, I still love the game and look forward to the season.  I don’t believe for one second that the Giants stand a chance of even making the playoffs, but to paraphrase a friend, with every new season there is new hope. 

Gratitude is tough in tough times.  I don’t wish to seem too Pollyannaish, nor do I want people to think that my appreciation of my good fortune blinds me to the very real suffering and misery that exists on this planet.  But what is any one of us supposed to do…spend our lives contemplating only suffering?  We need hope.  I am reminded of the story of how rescue workers at ground zero in Lower Manhattan would hide in the rubble so that rescue dogs could discover live bodies.  The dog’s trainers found that the endless stream of death proved too dispiriting to their K9 coworkers and the only way to spur them on was to offer some hope of life.  If a dog (a wonderful creature, but hardly the most sophisticated of thinkers) needs that kind of hope, we human beings must require at least as much and likely more.  And so in tough times I try my best to count my blessings every now and then.

Finally, please know that I am not writing this post to lecture or cajole my readers into appreciating the good that surrounds them.  The aims of my blog are much more modest than that.  I merely want to let any interested parties know what’s going on in my world, to share my thoughts publically in a relatively safe environment, and to see if and how they resonate with my readers.  If this posting helps you in any way, great.  If not, that’s fine too.  The fact that anyone reads these posts at all adds to my already considerable blessings, and I am grateful for that.  And I hope that my family, friends, and other readers have much to be grateful for, as well.

 

As always, stay tuned.