It begins in January. I climb on a pony – or ostrich or tiger – listening to the calliope and waiting for the bell. When it rings, the carousel slowly gears up, with rasping effort, to turn. At the start, it turns very slowly, as if it’s pulling out of the grip of the past year. It gathers speed gradually through April until, at last, by summertime, it slips free from the past and acquires a momentum that carries it forward with heightened determination. September arrives, and the acceleration intensifies. I must grasp the pole, even as I lean out to resist the pull. I give in to it and gallop forward, circling faster and faster. Suddenly I sense the momentum dissipating. It is the end of December and the carousel slows to a stop, allowing me time to buy a ticket for another ride. This is how I experience the passage of a year.
Though many researchers have explored the notion that time is perceived to pass more rapidly as we age, that phenomenon has escaped me entirely. The metaphor of my perception of time has remained the same for over 40 years, and its paces haven’t varied. My moods tend to match the turning of the carousel, with the fall being my happiest, most energetic time of year. Why that should be is unclear, but perhaps it dates from my school-going years: I always looked forward to going back to school, from first grade to the beginning of each year of law school. It was the prelude to new possibilities.
When I was in elementary school, I remember the annual ritual of shopping for new clothes with my mother. On the first day of class, I would wear my favorite new outfit, feeling very spiffy. Even that year when the temperature was still in the 90’s, I wore my new red wool pleated skirt and navy blue sweater with a white trimmed collar. It didn’t matter that I was over-dressed for the hot day — I was excited about the newness of the school year and my clothes matched my mood.
More observant Jews might also note that autumn is the sacred time of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, followed by Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Perhaps there is some primeval association in my soul, but I don’t recognize it. The September exhilaration I experience is more tamped down by the High Holy Days. I sense that I’ve been found wanting on the spiritual plane. And, in recent years, the grief evoked by the Yizkor services has become more intense, denting my high autumnal spirit with the remembrance of losses. So, no, I don’t think the Holy Days of the Jewish calendar account for my perception of September’s velocity.
I don’t simply perceive time in an experiential sense, I also visualize it. There is ample research into charts, graphs and symbols that enable a student of most any discipline to grasp change over a specified time period. They may cover millennia, eras, centuries or seconds. Considerable thought has gone into designing a look that conveys the evolution, growth and maturation of our universe, civilizations and bodies. It is challenging to compress time periods that vastly exceed our individual lifetimes into a visual without obliterating the sense of the tempo of change. Many such charts invite us to leap over 100 and 1000 year stretches to understand an historical or geographic phenomenon.
But time is lived hour by hour, day by day, week by week. And this is how I visualize it: I can see the weeks of a year, unfolding accordion-style. The closest weeks are fully open, and the days are individuated. I can infer the degree of their proximity by the clarity of lettering and the detail of hours. The furthest reaches of the calendar are still folded tightly but, as we move forward in time, the closest days drop out of the picture, and the later ones unfold. I can tune into this visualization at any time of the year; although it is grounded in the calendar, it is continuous. It is the foreseeable future.
Both my experience and visualization of time offer comfort. The recurrence of the carousel cycles, and the continuity of the accordion book, reassure me in difficult moments that I will get through them, that time is my most reliable friend. When I was a homesick teenager at a summer boarding school, I could see when I was going home. When a person dear to me died, I understood I would not be stuck in that excruciating moment forever. The carousel would keep turning, pausing and accelerating. The days would unfold spontaneously.
On joyful days, the experience and visualization of time hold out the excitement of the next milestone or occasion — or the exaltation of pure possibility. Their parameters outline the future, giving me confidence that I’m on track, even though the details – people, places, things — that will fill the seasons and the weeks remain to be discovered. I am in motion, moving time and again to a good place before moving forward. I am charmed anew by the exuberance of the carousel’s calliope.
“There are things known and there are things unknown, and in between are the doors of perception,” wrote Aldous Huxley. Perhaps the carousel and the accordion book allow me to pass from the known to the unknown without qualms. Perhaps they substitute for faith.
My intention in reading The Guns of August by Barbara Tuchman was to understand why World War I began in 1914. This has been on my mind since viewing the spectacular display of 888,246 ceramic poppies at the Tower of London in August 2014. Each poppy represented a British soldier killed in the war that destroyed a generation. Eighteen million persons in military and civilian life died in that dreadful war; 23 million more were wounded. It seemed to me impossible that such consequences could flow simply from the assassination of the Archduke Ferdinand, heir to the throne of Austria-Hungary, by a Serbian terrorist (or patriot, depending on one’s loyalties), but that was all I retained from a world history survey course 50 years ago.
This is not an essay about the causes of World War I. Suffice it to say, that the network of alliances and ententes that crisscrossed borders and continents from 1870 – a somewhat arbitrary starting point – to 1914 is confounding. Ms. Tuchman doesn’t purport to explore all of them, or to mine all of the history of the Ottoman Empire, Russia, Austria-Hungary, the Balkans – I should stop there, for the list of all of the nations engulfed in this conflagration is almost the entire world. What she does is dissect the conduct of the first month of battles in August 1914 that set the course for the following four years of death and destruction. I am not the first to observe that it is a brilliant day-by-day reconstruction of the key actors’ strategies, decisions and behavior.
It is difficult to absorb the details of the attacks, counterattacks, retreats and other actions of those 31 days. I found it impossible to master Tuchman’s maps of troop movements (which my Kindle didn’t facilitate). I found myself re-reading sections to be sure I had correctly connected a particular General and his army, and had to do some peripheral research about brigades, corps and divisions to appreciate the significance of some events. I was overwhelmed by detail and can’t recite the chronology with confidence. Even the names of some of the key players at key moments are a bit muddled.
Nevertheless, after finishing the book, from prologue to epilogue, I felt vastly better educated about how it all came about. Further, as I distance myself more from the particular pages, I feel that I’ve learned or been reminded of some important basics about the affairs of men (they were all men at the time, of course). Perhaps I knew some of these things before reading The Guns of August, but I write them down now because I don’t want to lose sight of them again. They are not unique to me or especially profound observations, but they help me find relevance in a time that otherwise feels very distant.
Langfollow’s List of Lessons from The Guns of August
People looking for a fight will find it. And may drag in people who aren’t.
Plans based on how things used to be are doomed.
Human behavior can be worse than imaginable.
People crave inspiration.
People tell barefaced lies to create their own narrative.
Fake news is not new.
Glorious reputations may disguise incompetence.
Knowing when to be flexible is a critical skill of discernment.
Paying close attention avoids mistakes.
People rise above their limits to achieve a goal that matters to them.
That, in short, is both the good news and the bad news from 31 days of August 1914.
My mother privately smashed plates in the basement when she was angry. I knew nothing of this until decades later when she was working on an autobiography. She told me then about the tremendous emotional pain and fear she experienced as a child when her parents fought regularly and furiously with raised voices, and sometimes more. She vowed she would never subject her children to such behavior. Hence the broken dishes.
As parents, we are prone to over-correct, hoping to avoid the mistakes we associate with our own parents. My mother, traumatized by her parents’ rages, didn’t consider the spectrum of expressions of anger or the need to distinguish between self-possession and self-deprecation. It took me years after my mother’s revelation to discern the source of my own aversion to confrontation. I had intuited from her self-restraint that anger shouldn’t be openly displayed. I expanded on this theme to avoid provoking anger as well. The two occasions when I raised my voice as a teen remain sources of remorse to me. Despite the sense that my anger was justified in both instances, I felt that I had threatened my relationship with my mother by lashing out. Confrontation was not just inappropriate, it was risky. Even in my adult career as a litigator, I shrank from one-on-one conflict. This is the context of the conduct of my life and relationships.
Taylor Swift shook me from this false sense of serenity. Her voice is beautiful, strong and inspiring. I’m not thinking of her songs, though they presumably fit that description too. I’ve got in mind her recent testimony about the experience of sexual molestation at the hands, literally, of one David Mueller.
When I was nine years old, a great uncle made a Mueller move on me on the stairs of my very own home. I told no one. I knew it was wrong of him. I knew I didn’t like it. It didn’t occur to me to doubt that I would be believed if I told my parents. But I was embarrassed, and I didn’t want to create family discord, which I implicitly understood it would, so I said nothing. Decades later, I mentioned it to my mother and father, then in their 80’s, when for some reason my great uncle’s name came up. My father reacted fiercely – had he known, he would have killed his uncle, he said, and it didn’t surprise me. He might have come close. A revelation surely would have blown a hole in our family circle. And I would have been responsible, or so I felt at the time. But the uncle and his entire generation were now long dead, and so, with the danger of conflict in the past, I found my voice when it was inconsequential.
I was 15, crushed in a packed Manhattan E Train, when it happened again. This time it was a stranger. I never saw his face. He was wearing leather gloves – I think of them as black gloves, but I never saw them either. I know they were leather though, for I wrestled with his hands as they crept up my inner thigh. “Take your hands off me, you creep,” is what I imagined shouting, but I said nothing. I was shaken by the assault, as my girlfriend noticed, but I kept it a secret from her too. I didn’t doubt that I would be believed, but I knew I would have created a public ruckus that I didn’t want to be the center of. Rather than confront the anonymous miscreant, I’ve kept it a secret for 55 years.
I was 26 and a lawyer in a large law firm the next time. Seated at a dinner, next to the president of a large mid-west chemical company, I felt again, a hand – his hand – creeping under my skirt up my leg, hidden by the tablecloth. Outwardly, he was a model of propriety – didn’t even take a drink. I was appalled and firmly shoved his hand away. But without a word. The dinner continued, uninterrupted.
Remembering these episodes, I feel compassion for the nine-year-old, the fifteen-year-old, and even the 26-year-old that I was. I look at my teenage granddaughters now, running track, climbing walls and silks, playing soccer, dancing and swimming competitively: I haven’t a single doubt that all of them have a sense of physical integrity that has been honed since they were toddlers. Each one knows she is powerful and is unafraid to be her own advocate. They would be shocked, I think, to know that I did not feel that way too, that I, a civil rights advocate of some stature, blinked when it came to my own protection.
There are many consequences of conflict evasion, in many spheres of life. Taylor Swift, by tacking in a different, brave direction, has led me to reflect on them. I’m grateful that she spoke up, that she minced no words, that she called Mueller’s lie what it was, that she made it emphatically clear that grab-ass is not just boyish horseplay, that she didn’t shy away from confrontation. She acted and reacted in a way that she will never second guess.
The Judy Collins Songbook cost $4.95 back in 1969. It includes 55 songs by such as Bob Dylan, Tom Paxton, Leonard Cohen and Pete Seeger, whom I will love all my life. A few, along with her Reminiscences, are by Judy Collins herself. The one that I was looking for in the collection yesterday – “Both Sides Now” — is by Joni Mitchell. I last sang the song decades ago and the pages of the 50 year old songbook crackled at their seam.
Ironically, it was Donald Trump’s bombast that triggered my search for this sweet song. I, like millions of others, was horrified by the President’s deference to “both sides” of the conflict in Charlottesville. That he did not, and likely could not, perceive the moral difference between those shouting “Jews will not replace us” and those protesting Nazism and racism was shocking. But it also led me to consider how to differentiate between an issue that has “both sides” open to debate, and a world view that permits no “other-sidedness.” It may be that the world of the First Amendment disallows any such distinction. The Constitution, after all, doesn’t evaluate content; it asserts the freedom to espouse it. But in a moral world, there is a need to recognize that there are philosophies so pernicious that they exist on one plane only.
Joni Mitchell’s lyrics offer a metaphorical guide to this terrain. She looked at clouds “from both sides now, from up and down, and still somehow, it’s clouds illusions I recall, I really don’t know clouds at all.” Mitchell’s insight is that clouds themselves, depending on one’s mood, can be fanciful or weighty. As deeply as we look into clouds, from various angles and mindsets, we may never capture their intrinsic nature. But whatever this suggests about the study of clouds, it is clear that they are not defined by something else.
Sunshine, for example, is not perceived as the “other side” of clouds. Sunshine is its own phenomenon: cleansing, brilliant, brutal and deadly. And so too, darkness is not the “other side” of the sun. One is not simply the absence of the other.
Several writers of music and memoirs have referred to “the other side of darkness.” Their focus is not on the duality of darkness itself, but rather the emergence from a debilitating emotional state of mind. It is, however, a misleading use of the words insofar as it suggests that darkness itself has another side. True, it can be experienced in a variety of ways: somber, peaceful, frightening. It may reveal stars and invite dreams or nightmares. And it may be, as used by these writers, a metaphor for a state of mind. But leaving behind confusion, depression or anger is not to find another “side” of darkness. It is rather to discover something totally different: light, love, and all things that flourish when darkness is dispelled. Each has its own attributes, and it would be simplistic to construe this shorthand to mean that one is the “other side” of something altogether different.
Which takes me back to Charlottesville. There are some (few) like the President and David Duke who insist that the fascist marchers and the protesters were “both sides” of – what? An issue? A debate? A controversy? This desultory analysis ends in what has been described as a false “moral equivalency.”
If neo-Nazism is “controversial,” it is not because this nation accords to its agenda any philosophical or political stature worthy of debate. The controversial aspect concerns only whether and to what extent the First Amendment requires us to tolerate the expression of its vile nature, antithetical to the First Amendment itself. Protesting neo-Nazism is not “the other side” of this evil; it is not one of “both sides” of a reasoned conversation. To declare that the Charlottesville demonstrators and protestors represented “both sides” of an issue is tantamount to pretending that there was a basis for a legitimate difference of opinion between the Warsaw ghetto Jews who rose up against the Nazis and their oppressors. There was not.
So, too, in Charlottesville, there were purveyors of Nazi hate and there were their antagonists, defending the essential moral and political character of our nation. They were not representing or expressing “both sides” of a debatable issue like taxes. They represented and advocated wholly antithetical world views, one of which our country has rejected, fought against and defeated. By casting it otherwise, Donald Trump has again revealed both his feeble-minded ignorance and his depravity.
“Decadent” was a new word to my ten-year-old grandson. It was splashed across the poster for a production of the musical Cabaret that we were attending at the Kennedy Center in Washington DC. An odd choice for a fifth grader and his grandmother? Perhaps, but Teddy had performed in and seen the other show then on stage – The King and I – more times than he wished, so we opted for Cabaret. Even so, “decadent” triggered my uneasy attention as we entered.
Together, Teddy and I had read the synopsis of the show so that he would be prepared for the adult themes and dark, raunchy humor. But we hadn’t encountered the word “decadent” in this vetting, so I tried now to define it. “Sleazy” and “raunchy” captured it visually, but missed its essence. “Dissolute” and “degenerate” were no more familiar to him. Google might have helped, but I decided that, in this situation, a picture – or a scene – was worth a thousand words. So I let it go. Suffice it to say that, by the end of the show, Teddy “got” decadent. He also loved the music and worked to master it on my piano. For my part, I heard words and tunes that had eluded me before and squirmed only once during the bawdy rendition of “Two Ladies.” My grandson seemed unfazed.
During his week in DC, Teddy and I also visited memorials to presidents and war veterans. We spent a day at Mount Vernon, wandered through the National Museum of American History and, more purposefully, walked the corridors of the Newseum and the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum. Much of what we saw reflected on individual leaders, where they went right and wrong. The FDR Memorial, with its stirring quotations inscribed on the walls, was a big hit – and is my own favorite – but we also saw an exhibit about the internment of Americans of Japanese descent under the same President Roosevelt. We observed that George Washington’s courage underpinned the founding of our country and his humility molded our democracy. Yet, he was a slaveholder. We were moved by the war veterans’ memorials – the faces of the soldiers in Korea were particularly evocative — and the remnants of the Berlin Wall and 9/11 wreckage. We rattled off the five freedoms protected by the First Amendment and focused on the rights to assemble and petition our government. And we watched how, pernicious bit by bit, the erosion of those freedoms by the Nazis created the context for the unchallenged murder of millions.
I tried not to lecture, but to observe and to question. Each time I visit these extraordinary sites – and, with 14 grandchildren, it is often – I observe things anew, often through eyes other than my own. Four years ago, I recall a spirited debate between two twelve-year-old grandsons about which more effectively conveyed its meaning: the abstract Vietnam Veterans Memorial or the representational Korean War Veterans Memorial. There is no right answer, of course, but in the competitive passion of the debate, the two boys examined thoroughly how and why they both evoke such powerful feelings. I have felt those two memorials more deeply ever since.
Oddly enough, in this particular week, it was Cabaret that cobbled together the lessons of many of these exhibits and memorials and heightened their emotional impact for me. The show’s montage of raucous and sweet scenes, moments of celebration and heartbreak, collectively aroused in me an uneasy sense of our vulnerability to the personal consequences of leadership gone egregiously bad. We saw how ordinary people could turn on a dime to become hateful and dangerous. We witnessed beauty morph into hideousness, love into fear, innocence into complicity.
Cabaret viscerally captures the demise of freedom in Nazi Germany, and the potential anywhere for a descent into a moral and political abyss where the educative tension between right and wrong – as at Mount Vernon — is eviscerated by wholesale evil. How lucky we are to be able to examine the history of our nation, and speak aloud of its failings as well as its triumphs; to acknowledge the fallibilities of our founders even as we honor them; to illuminate the values and imperfections of our democracy; simply to be alive in this country, in this time, when we are energized to appreciate and deploy our freedoms.
And how lucky I am that my grandson gave me the occasion to refresh my appreciation that Washington is my home.
It is scarcely possible to open the newspaper – as I still do – without coming face to face with a “crisis.” It may be in Syria, North Korea, Greece, Sudan, London, New Hampshire or Penn Station. The causes are as various as the sites: terrorism, civil war, missiles, religion, antibiotic-resistant bacteria, immigration, opiates, climate change, rotting infrastructure and revenge. Together, they threaten to merge in a generalized sense of danger, unchecked and uncontrollable.
Crisis: what has that word come to mean? Can a single act betoken a crisis? Must a situation persist, resisting change or amelioration, to constitute a crisis? Or is it a moment when forces hang in the balance pending a resolution? Does a crisis impel an immediate response? Or can a crisis endure as a chronic condition? Is a crisis something different from a calamity? Is this more than a semantic problem?
My first memory of the use of the word “crisis” goes back 55 years to 1962: the Cuban missile crisis. I was 15 and frightened. My mother urged me to trust the president – it was his business to keep us safe. But my fear bested her reasoning and I shouted back, “My life is my business.” My bedside radio stayed on all night. Long before the Internet was around to hype the event, or conspirators trolled the airwaves, radio reporters conveyed a sense through their tense, deadpan broadcasts and uninterrupted coverage that the world was in extremis – and that world included me.
What characterized the Cuban missile crisis, as I experienced it, was a sense that the world hung precariously, urgently, in balance in that moment. It wasn’t simply a matter of good v. evil, communism v. capitalism, democracy v. autocracy. It wasn’t a trend or a pattern. It wasn’t even complex. It was life or death. Further, it was a moment when it seemed that the outcome was in the hands of just two men – John F. Kennedy and Nikita Khrushchev. It was terrifying to conjure up the consequences of a false move by either one. It was wholly unclear whether the naval quarantine ordered by Kennedy would trigger a Soviet nuclear response.
The public crisis lasted six days and ended, as we now remember, with the Soviet Union dismantling the missiles it had installed in Cuba. The quarantine subsequently was lifted. There was a resolution. To be sure, there were and are lingering consequences of the affair, but the crisis, as such, was over.
Not so easy now. The events and conditions deemed “crises” have a myriad of causes. They defy unilateral, or bilateral, solutions. They persist. One crisis – an earthquake – segues into another – cholera. Drought becomes starvation. Perhaps this is abetted by the communications glut, or by one critical need attempting to outbid the other for resources and attention. Or perhaps it is the seemingly impenetrable complexity of an interconnected world that baffles and overwhelms us.
All is not dark and hopeless — far from it. Remarkably good and promising things are happening all around us, sparkling with optimism. To resist and protest is uplifting. To learn about biological, technological, physiological, artistic and archaeological break-throughs is exhilarating. But it is nevertheless concerning that the recurrent branding of world events as crises may lead us to become increasingly insensible to situations and events that are critical, including those that could be intelligently addressed and perhaps solved. Crises seem not to invite solutions. Rather, they have become conditions that evoke hand-wringing, check-writing and marching on the way to acceptance of the unacceptable, as we go back to business.
Privately, we disclaim responsibility for solutions by acknowledging we are not the ones who can cure cancer, end greenhouse emissions or give peace a chance. We are not rocket-scientists. We deprecate our potential to foster change that might, just marginally, relieve despairing conditions of one kind or another, in one place or another. “We must be the change we wish to see,” Gandhi wrote. Does the massing of crises debilitate our capacity to see how?
The starfish story comes to mind. The child tosses a starfish back in the ocean, recognizing the truth that there are too many beached starfish for her alone to save them all. But, as she wisely notes, she makes a difference to each one she rescues. It is unusual for one person to effect that difference, though Malala Yousafzai, in her context, comes to mind. More commonly, like Alan Kurdi’s drowning, the individual produces an outcry, but no change.
Crises are, for the most part, created by men and women, often (though not always) with evil intent. And it is possible for men and women of good will to chip away at them, even if comprehensive solutions elude us. Though we may not absolve ourselves fully of responsibility by taking marginal actions to problem-solve – by speaking out, stepping up, persisting in outrage — our humanity demands that, as we lurch from disaster to catastrophe, we not allow ourselves to become hardened to crisis as a way of life.
The Langfollow archives reveal that it’s been well over a year since I last wrote on this site. Initially, the explanation – or excuse – was a relapse into depression. (Depression is not a source of creative energy.) When I emerged in full appreciation of life, I continued to avoid the site, as if it might trap me in my prior grieving and grievous state of mind. That fear is past. Now 70 years old, with a feeling of hopefulness and competence, I am returning.
My father was the subject of one of my earliest essays. He was then 96 and living a curious, sometimes surreal, life of an Alzheimer’s patient, with the complication of a brain injury from a fall. His life ended on April 8, 2017, at the age of 98, in a deepening sleep in the home where he had lived for 48 years. A lengthy obituary and death notice in the New York Times and Washington Post summarized an awesome (correctly used in this context) life as a creative entrepreneur and philanthropist. Aspects of this life were in turn recounted at his funeral service at Temple Emanu-El by some of those most deeply connected to him.
My eulogy did not review the chronology of his life. Instead, I examined his thinking about the values that guided his trajectory. I feel intensely that I must revisit that eulogy on this site before going on, as my father’s death is surely a defining moment in the arc of my own life.
“My father’s achievements — his inspirational character, his creativity, his boundless curiosity, his infectious enthusiasm and his innovative daring — have been widely recognized and honored. He was no shrinking violet, and he enjoyed the glow of recognition. But what people ask me over and over, in various ways, is how to understand what motivated his philanthropy. What led him to commit over 95% of his considerable resources, and an equal amount of his time, to creating opportunity for others?
Thinking about this takes me back to the simple prayer — we called it “grace” — that my father composed, and taught my brothers and me to recite at Friday night dinner when we were children:
“Thank you, God, for having such a nice mommy and daddy and brothers. Thank you for having such a nice house to live in and for having such good food to eat.
Help us to deserve and appreciate all these blessings.”
Deserve and appreciate. Those were the operative words, central to my father’s moral philosophy and key to understanding his instinct for philanthropy.
They originated with my grandparents, particularly my grandfather, Daniel Lang. I remember as a child climbing over the stone wall that separated my grandfather’s farm from an abandoned orchard. Once on the other side, there was no lollygagging. “If you don’t pick apples, you don’t eat apples,” Grandfather admonished us. Clearly, we were expected to earn our rewards. We would deserve the apples only if we worked for them.
This was an essential lesson of my father’s upbringing — tinged with Grandfather’s socialism.
To this my father added the second element of our family prayer: appreciation of the blessings of family, home, food.
I came to understand from this that we were never to take anything for granted, never to assume any entitlement. We were to be aware that our family, our home, our food, were blessings for which we were to be thankful.
It would be easy to take those two elements — deservedness and appreciation — and turn inwards, that is, to celebrate the exclusivity of our own successes — to eat our own apples, if you will.
But that would undermine the core intent of our prayer of thanksgiving. As we dutifully turned off the lights, finished what was on our plates and picked up pennies from the street, my father gave us to understand that blessings are not evenly distributed in our world — even in our own communities. That we must not be careless or thoughtless in the enjoyment of our blessings. That part of being deserving and appreciative requires us to think how we can make it possible for others to enjoy these blessings too.
Thus, as he saw it, philanthropy is not an act of “giving back.” It is simply an essential element of living a moral, fulfilling and responsible life, as fundamental as breathing. But it became even more than that to him. It morphed from a disciplined belief to an emotional high, as my father himself learned that philanthropy at its best is not a one-way street. If you look at photos of my father celebrating milestones with “his dreamers,” you will understand that giving was a source of tremendous joy to him. He was exhilarated by the projects of Lang Opportunity Scholars at Swarthmore, and by the graduations of Lang Youth Scholars at the American Museum of Natural History and New York Presbyterian Hospital. He was elated by the promise of research at New York Hospital Queens. Excited by the new generation of students and faculty at Lang College at the New School, and by the prospect of integrating civic and social responsibility in college curricula.
All of this genuinely thrilled my father. He would tell you, as he told me, that through giving, he received the greatest gifts, and that anything he did not give, he lost by not giving it.
Giving became the essence of a purposeful life for my father. He immersed himself in it creatively, and passionately. Two years ago, he told me of his sadness about losing his sense of purpose. As Alzheimer’s Disease depleted his marvelous capacity to spin out ideas for new projects, he felt keenly the loss of what had energized him for decades.
But there were moments when that excitement returned, particularly following student concerts at home. One day last year, after two students from Concerts in Motion had performed for him, he asked them, “How do you know when you’ve performed well?” At first, the students answered somewhat tentatively — the audience applauds. But my father shook his head: No, he said, and he put his hand to his chest, how does it “feel inside” when you’ve performed well? The students thought hard — how to put into words what it felt like — and they did, they described the physical and emotional elation, and my father nodded vigorously, satisfied that he had shared in their joy of making music and in the recognition of a job well done.
Two weeks before he died, my father said to me clearly and simply: “The future lies wholly in the past.” He refused to elaborate. In that moment, I recognized what he was saying: the gig was up. But what a past — and what a future he created for all of us.
Gandhi said: My life is my message. And so it was for my father too.
Thank you, God: Help us to deserve and appreciate the blessing that was his life.”
Now, it is time for me to return.