Beginning several years ago, I entered into an email correspondence with a remarkable lady, then eighty-four years old. She first contacted me after reading one of my newspaper columns. Continuing till her death earlier this week, we wrote back and forth on subjects large and small. She lived a most amazing life, some of which can be found in those emails.
Steadfastly, over all the years, she refused my entreaties to meet face to face; until, as she was dying, her daughter contacted me to say she'd like to see me and Judy, my wife. That was about a month ago. At our first visit, Doris asked me to speak at her funeral. I'm about to do so, although I'm still not sure what to say. She said she didn't want it to be about her.
I've managed to find many, but not all, of our exchanges, and have put them together here. This will be a very long post, but for those willing to slog through (especially, but in no way limited to, Jewish readers) I'd say it could be found uniquely interesting. Read it for the other stories: her travels in Iran, India, Russia...
(Toward the end of our correspondence there were pictures I included, mainly of our grandchildren, which delighted her. For some reason, they show only as blank squares in this imported file):
A somewhat disorganized and, sadly, incomplete collections of emails exchanged with a remarkable woman.
She took the words “lived life to the fullest” from tired cliché
to its very embodiment
For several years, I’ve had a weekly column in our local newspaper, The Daily (Everett, WA) Herald. Sometimes people email me their responses. Occasionally they’ve led to a short-lived back and forth. In the case of Doris, whose last name and other identifiers I’ve removed, there followed several years of challenging, interesting, and quite unique thoughts. Worth preserving and sharing, for sure. It began with this:
On Jan 15, 2013, at 10:18 PM, Doris wrote:
Hello, Dr. Schwab,
I so appreciate your commentaries, always en pointe and on such meaningful issues.
One issue I've long been aware of and feel strongly about is this: We are a shame-based culture, relentlessly manipulated and bombarded by commercial interests of every type and level.
The strategy is demeaning, speaking down to, cajoling and shaming the listeners as though they were children, in the most and worst blatant, transparent efforts to sell products. We are immersed, swimming, in this particular tactic.
Essentially, the pitch is to shame people into buying the products, e.g., cleaning products, body products, etc., at the risk of embarrassing themselves in front of others if they don't.
I believe that this strategy contributes significantly to a society in which dignity and self-respect are minimized, and I would like to have some readers be, at least, conscious and aware of this base manipulation to which they are constantly exposed even if they choose not to change their purchasing behaviors.
I don't know if this subject interests you; it is not at all as profound as the ones on which you have written which I have read.
Thank you for listening,
Thanks for writing, Ms *****. I agree with you; my wife and I often comment on commercials for the same reason. (Lately, it seems, the dad is always the doofus. Maybe that's progress!) Of course, if they really want to sell something, they do it with a British accent.
I suppose it's a side-effect of an economy based on consumers. Maybe that's a hook for a column. Much as I think capitalism is the most productive and inventive and successful economic model, it has that dark side. I think of it, too, in the sense that it seems to require ever-increasing population, which, at some point, becomes unsustainable.
Your name is familiar to me. I think I had a patient by that name. You?
On Jan 21, 2013, at 9:26 PM, Doris wrote:
Hello, Dr. Schwab,
Thank you for your response,
Lovely and progressive: that the Dad is the doofus and the producers have proven themselves more desperate and blatant with British (or Australian) accents.
But who is noticing other than you, your wife, and I?
I believe that the lousy economy makes consumers weak and more vulnerable to becoming prey to the vultures on the wing, still flying high.
I believe that capitalism is a default system, able to relatively maintain itself because we are not evolved enough to sustain a more equitable system.
Re your commentary of yesterday, Sunday, January 30th, re climate change: May I suggest this: (I don't know why this is underlining, it is not intentional and I don't know how to stop it): You write that you don't understand the deniers. I believe that this issue is one of a strand of many in the belief system of a given individual, and it is part of an all-encompassing investment in a whole scheme of cultural and world view beliefs. It is part of an invested system from which they cannot extract one isolated strand; they are intertwined and there exists the unconscious fear that the whole system on which one's life and self-image are based would become untenable and collapse. It is this sort of fear which precludes any intellectual honesty and clarity, I believe.
I've written this clumsily but, I hope, somewhat articulated.
No, I haven't been your patient although I think it would have been a privilege.
And I tend to not affiliate. I belong only to Temple Beth Or, a Reform Jewish Temple here in Everett, not as an attendee but as a mea culpa for having run away from my Jewishness and because, ironically, I like the feeling of this belonging. Probably age-related.
In my "introductory column" a few weeks back I mentioned that my wife and I were among the ten original founding families of Temple Beth Or (I even came up with the name for its newsletter, The ORacle.) But we let it slide out of our lives after a couple of years, and before it came to be in its current location, which we visited back then, when it was still an Orthodox synagogue, with dwindling numbers.
On Jan 22, 2013, at 10:50 AM, Doris wrote:
How interesting, Dr. Schwab. I didn't see your introductory column,
After one or two times I didn't attend again, not because the Temple was insufficient in any way (and who was I to evaluate in the slightest way; I hadn't the least of credentials), but because my skepticism and agnosticism prevailed, and I came away feeling a genuine fraud. And I was.
I was a fraud on either side of the fence.
But I'm delighted to "belong" in at least the shadowy way that I do.
And so I thank you for being one of the founders. And have always enjoyed the clever name of the ORacle.
Now that I look at it, I realize the column in which I mentioned Beth Or wasn't my introductory one, but in one about Christmas:
I grew up in a Jewish household, the kind that celebrated by feeling guilty about not attending services. A few generations back there are rabbis in the family, and founders of temples. Matter of fact my wife and I were among the ten religiously mixed families that founded Temple Beth Or, right here in Everett. I even named their newsletter, “The ORacle.” Current members may be surprised to hear that, since we haven’t been a part of it since a year or two after it got going. I do recall, however, the pride of creation when our first Friday night service was scheduled, after many months of effort. Wow, I thought. We really did it, the real deal: it’s Friday night, we have a service to go to, I don’t want to, and I feel guilty.
The last sentence is, really, the operative one, although the column was about the bigger picture of separation of church and state.
I've enjoyed your very thoughtful and provocative emails. Much to chew on, and, in my case, to agree with.
On Jan 25, 2013, at 11:47 PM, Doris wrote:
Hello, Dr. Schwab,
I missed that one as well (I began to notice your column just recently), and am glad that you recaptured this paragraph for me. I'm so enjoying it,
having a great chuckle from the characterization of your childhood household (first sentence: East Coast Jewish humor?). Last sentence: We Jews do seem to set ourselves up for no-wins. Masochism seems to come as a birthright. That we embrace?
I do want to say this: that you might not have wanted to go to your own creation, the first Friday-night service, but what you created reached people like I, who benefited in quiet ways you could not have been aware of or anticipated.
I believe that there is the Holy Trinity of Jewish Life: Shame, Guilt, and Fear. At least, in my experience. I have known a few exceptions and have envied them, i.e., their compatibility with- and lack of self-consciousness in- their Jewishness. But I must generalize to make a point, that many have internalized and mirrored the anti-Semites' animosity, antipathy, loathing. I had no idea, until I was in at least middle-age, of how common it is that Jews run from their Jewishness. And carry on their shoulders the guilt for doing so as they run?
As pessimistic and unpleasant as my perspective might be, I believe that the hard-core anti-Semites will prevail. They are the hardy perennials who will survive us.
The Jewish sensitivity, the mindful, thoughtful sensitivity that makes beautiful music, extraordinary science, the funniest self-deprecating comedians, genuine well-meaning mitzvahs (mitzvot?), the most enlightening writers and intellectuals- that sensitivity makes us vulnerable to the indifference, intransigence, self-righteous dogmatism and lack of any introspection of the dedicated anti-Semites. There is so much strength, iron, in their unquestioned beliefs, attitudes. They stand in one place, still, unmoved and unmoving, while we dance around them struggling to convince them that we are worthy of acceptance.
I recognize that we are strongly internally and culturally motivated to achieve, but I think also of abused women as an analogy: If they are just better, nicer, more productive, more compliant- something; there must be something that will touch the others' souls- perhaps they will be accepted, loved.
And, so, I believe that only the Netanyahus can make our ultimate survival a possibility. The really tough, probably not-so-sensitive Jews.
I hope that I haven't offended you. I have lived intimately with all sorts of purposeful and not-so-purposeful anti-Semites. And the elegant ones can do as much damage as the crass ones.
It's an interesting and challenging subject, all right. I've always been proud, if that's the right term for something over which I had no control, of being Jewish and, as you said, of what it represents historically and in terms of its disproportionate representation among great thinkers and artists, among others. It's always a pleasure finding out someone I've admired is Jewish. Like, just yesterday, Stephen Fry!
And I find a sense of commonality with any stranger I meet who turns out to be Jewish; a preformed understanding.
But, of course, the guilt, the guilt. I think the time I felt worst was in med school, when I was dating a fellow student, whose family consisted mainly of very religious Jews. (And her father, who was pretty much non-religious.) I went to her home in New Rochelle for Seder one year, done in the most traditional way: two consecutive nights, chanted in Hebrew, nonstop, for three hours. My lack of Hebrew language was evident, and considered disgraceful. Considering what the family had been through during and in escaping the Holocaust, I couldn't disagree (although the same was true of my family.) I felt I'd been handed a baton, kept safe at great cost, and dropped it. They all but kicked me out of their house. That's, in fact (other than the occasional slip of a tongue now and then), the worst "anti-Semitism" I think I've ever felt, and I deserved it. A failed Jew.
Like a lot of teenage kids, there was a time I thought of becoming a rabbi. I went to a religious camp in CA one high school summer. (Learned more than religion from a girl there…) Now, though, I can't make myself believe any of it. But I retain my respect for the religion; particularly, at least among Reform Jews, their view, or lack thereof, of afterlife: "They still live on in the acts of goodness they performed and in the hearts of those who cherish their memory." In other words, the reason to do good is for its own sake, not for fear of punishment or expectation of reward. A much higher morality than that of Christendom.
I don't know if I share your optimism about the ability of Jews to prevail over anti-Semitism. It's very real, and, along with all manner of hatreds, rising in this country with the Tea Party and paranoid "patriot" types. It's worrisome. I think it's possible we could become a bible-based theocracy here; and would, if the South had its way. And my view of Netanyahu is that his intransigence is destructive to any prospect of peace. But I admit to having little real knowledge of the politics of Israel; nor do I hold much optimism for peace there no matter who's in charge.
On Jan 30, 2013, at 1:46 AM, Doris wrote:
Hello, Dr. Schwab,
Firstly, I want to say how much I appreciated, enjoyed, last Sunday's column, and felt the grainy textures of fog that you made so tangible.
When I've most wished I were a man rather than a woman has been while walking- or wanting to walk- on the beach in heavy, heavy fog, unable to see anything around me and with the foghorn from Westport blowing through it. But I was too fearful, the house was way up there, through the dunes, too far away to run to should there be a need.
Secondly, how precious- the ownership of pride in one's Jewishness. I've felt it now and then, when it was safe. So I know what you mean.
I had to look up Stephen Fry. What an eclectic man. And, depressed. That's all good proof that he's Jewish.
And the commonality with a Jewish stranger! Oh, yes! That comfort. When non-Jews say to me that Jews- or other groups- are, "cliquish" I try to encourage (coerce?) them to understand/empathize that it is because one tends toward the sameness because it is the safest, safe from rejection, safe from hurt. at least on the singular basis of religion. And, as you say, mostly it has assured commonalities and, generally, when there is disagreement there remains that elemental thread that has good value and that people are more hesitant to casually sever. Generally, as with any species it works the best, not because we necessarily love one another but because it precludes our hurting one another in that particular way.
I was moved by your experience with your fellow student's family. The ironies, the gratuitous, inflicted pain. I read once (an opinion) that it was the most religious, intransigent amongst the holocaust victims who saved and preserved Judaism, in the camps. So, perhaps that narrowly-focused single-mindedness is absolutely critical. I wonder how her non-religious father managed to survive in that situation.
I couldn't agree more re the altruism of Reform Judaism. I'm proud of that, too.
Re Netanyahu, the issues of anti-Semitism, Israel, and so forth: If it is a given that we are at least partially the products of the building blocks of our experiences I would make this observation: ( I know that there are many Israelis who have had in depth interactions, daily, on so many levels, with Palestinians/Muslims and nevertheless believe that Netanyahu is extreme, intransigent): I lived amongst them in Libya and Iran, and what I saw, particularly in Libya (in Iran the Shah was still in power so it was different for the Jews, then, loosely by law and by custom) remains with me.
In Tripoli (this was the era under King Idris) a jeweler told me very quietly, fearfully, in my ear, about "Jubareh", where he lived. It was in the low hills outside Tripoli and there were caves, with curtains over the entrances, and the narrow road went through in front of this long line of caves. As we drove through the curtains were quickly closed, and there was no one left outside. It was, to all appearances, routine for them, quick, hiding, over and over again.
In Tehran, I taught Spanish to students at the University and over time their (some of them) hatred of Americans, and especially Jews, was expressed. These were generally the poorer students, and it was seething.
Once, an Israeli soccer team came to play against the Iranians, and a man in the bleachers yelled out for the Israeli team, and he was literally beaten to death on the spot.
In Russian Georgia, Tbilisi, I inadvertently walked into the men's section of a synagogue, realized my mistake and walked out, and as I was walking away a man brushed past me and whispered, "Don't believe them; it's bad for us here".
And, re your comments concerning the Tea Party and their current and potential influence, a dear friend, in Boston, a Catholic- born and a "Christian"-now (whatever that means), raised in the grimy streets of Whitey Bolger (sp?) and since then highly- educated, desperately wanted me to really grasp, understand, the intense, underlying hatred for the Jews that he is so aware of but of which, he says, the Jews have no real understanding.
These are a few experience on which I justify my fear, my biases, my own intransigence. And I am aware that, (only) to some extent, emotion is preempting rational thought. Still, again and again, in my own mind, I had the confirmation (one looks for) for my original premise.
Also, Dr. Schwab, as a Californian I am glad and proud that you got a really pragmatic education at the religious camp in California.
What a fabulous letter! Thanks. (By the way, if we're gonna keep conversing, you call me Sid and I'll call you Doris.)
You've had an amazing life. Wow. And I don't doubt that if I'd had those experiences my perspectives would be different. I'm not pollyannish enough to think peace is really possible for Israel. But if it is, I think Bibi is making it harder. On the other hand, I really have no idea.
I travelled in the Soviet Union in the heyday of the Cold War, when I was in college. It was a language study tour (I'd had about six year of Russian language, and, at that time, was pretty much able to converse freely.) We had a surprising amount of free time to wander around and meet people. I had a conversation with a Jewish man in a cafe in Moscow, and he said sort of the same thing: it's not good here, despite what they want you to believe.
We visited a school on a collective farm and on the wall were pictures of the riots in the US South, police hosing blacks, dogs being let loose. It was current events. And yet, at least based on one encounter with a young woman, their prejudices were even more primitive: we were at a dance outside of St Petersburg, and when an African student arrived she wanted me to go talk to him. She was afraid to: he "looked like a monkey."
On a more amusing note, here's a great clip relating to Stephen Fry, whom I greatly admire (and, as you'll see, I'm not alone):
As to the California experience: I used to have a blog, Surgeonsblog, which in its prime got lots of viewing and several nice accolades: it was even mentioned in the NYT as one of the "great" medical blogs. Fox "news" online, too. It's still out there, and gets a fair amount of traffic; I respond to comments when they come in. Anyhow, as I was winding down, having run out of ideas (being retired made it sort of finite), I wrote about that experience. Since it's there for the world to see, I guess it's not offensive to clue you in:
On Feb 6, 2013, at 11:19 PM, Doris wrote:
Hello, Sid (thank you for this thoughtful gesture),
Before all else I'd like to go back to "the guilt, the guilt".
I believe that guilt is an acquired taste. To substantiate this I'd like to pass on an interaction that strongly impacted me (there have been almost a lifetime of others, of course, and no amount of them has been successful in alleviating mine): My sister-in-law is a product of the upper echelons of the British class system. her father having been a Viceroy in India, (I claim no bragging rights; I didn't marry her, my brother did, and she's been a wonderful sister-in-law).
For this purpose I'm referring to a memorable conversation she and I had in which she told me that she never experiences guilt, has never experienced guilt, can't relate to it, nor did she believe that the others in her environment of origin have.
Their vehicle of self-regulation was shame. Shame, only. And it wasn't the sort of shame that I related to, e.g., the shame of having a lack of integrity, a lack of character. Theirs was and is a shame of not upholding the social mores of their culture. (They were all WASPS in the original.)
I think that there also often exists a sense of entitlement amongst those without guilt, and I would extrapolate to guess that guilt and a sense of entitlement do not cohabit, cannot cohabit.
And, so, I am attempting to make the point that Jews, many of us, are left with that solid block, that almost genetic entity of guilt, and if dissolved much of our connective tissue generationally and with our contemporaries would evaporate, something of our identities would evaporate. In my experience it's so integrated into the psyches of thoughtful Jews who think too much- who would we be without it?
Also, it's been my observation, a gross generalization, that those who take on guilt have done less to deserve it, while those who have done significant damage are immune to it (not a Jew, but George Bush's type effortlessly comes to mind at this moment).
I was so interested in your experiences in Russia. Comparing yours with my own, since one of the times I was there was also during the Cold War,
And envious. That you have a good knowledge of Russian. As happened so often with immigrants, my mother never spoke Russian, although I have been assured that even shtetl Jews knew the language because commerce demanded it, and my father left St. Petersburg when he was just two. But even Yiddish they kept to themselves and I feel the loss of any language they knew and might have passed on. But, honestly, I probably wouldn't have been open to it when I was young.
When I went to Tbilisi, it was in 1964, and I was arrested at the Armenian border, in Erevan. A very long story. I cannot begin to describe the cruelty, mostly psychological, at that border; I still think of them as Mongols ((or Kazakhs?)). eyes as hard as rocks (I make a distinction between the Mongolian people and the pejorative term I recall as a child). I was jailed and grilled for three nights and then put back on the train with a minder who, really, turned out to be a wimp.
How stark the Russian prejudices were that you encountered! And yet we in this country are just as susceptible. I've heard once that years ago someone (at least) in the military, before integration, had thought that Blacks had tails and, once, that someone (at least) believed that Jews did.
One of the most amazing phenomena in the realm of mass manipulation was at a gathering of the Citizens Exchange Corps, a (naive) group attempting to ease some of the tension with the Russians during the Cold War. This was in Moscow, and all from English-speaking countries, I think about six or seven hundred people in a very large auditorium, with three Russians on the stage presenting their agenda.
At some point a fellow behind me, who I later found out was a student from Ohio State, called out demanding answers about the fate of a political prisoner, Yuri Orlov, re why he was still being held a (political) prisoner with no trial. It was incredible to see, after just a few minutes, the whole auditorium, orchestrated by the lead presenter on the stage, vociferously turn on this fellow- one of their own- as a mindless mass. However skilled the Russian was, it was inconceivable that the audience couldn't see how they were being manipulated? These were relatively worldly people. The Russians were trained in a way that- had I not watched it happen- I could not have imagined it. It was chilling. The audience was putty in the Russian's hands.
I so enjoyed the Stephen Fry video. I know almost nothing about him but I do now know that he has (at least one) very talented admirers.
I think that, after a fairly rapid scan, the Surgeonsblog is going to be memorable. I've got to be able to sit with it at leisure, unhurried, able to absorb it.
Well, I've now had the time to absorb it, more worthwhile than anything else I've done in recent memory (somewhat qualified and quantified; I'm eighty-four), it is memorable and have sent it on to everyone I think would appreciate it. I hope that's everyone I know! It's a joy. And I see that it's a lead to other tantalizing reading.
I'm going to take the liberty of sending you a powerful (both figuratively and literally) video one could think is specifically aimed at the deniers of global warming. It was sent to me by Nancy Sosnove, a longtime member of the Temple. Perhaps you've known her.
I appreciated your column of the 3rd. It's unfettered, unafraid of labels. It's just straight-on.
Doris, your latest is a carnivore's delight, as in meaty.
With your connection to India during English rule, you might be interested in a fascinating novel, "Old Filth," which begins there. And travels to Hong Kong, too; a similar dynamic. There's a "sequel," too, of sorts, The Man In The Wooden Hat"; really, the same story told from the point of view of the character's wife. The author is a woman who's now your age, by the way. "Filth," by the way, is an acronym for "Failed in London, Tried Hong Kong."
To the subject of Jewish guilt. I wonder how you see its origins. In contemporary society, I think of it as never living up to some sort of ideal, usually whatever our parents demanded. For them, I suppose the same. Or do you see it as related to the historical suffering and discrimination: an inbred acceptance, on some level, of being outcasts, less worthy, and, therefore, an unfulfillable need always to excel? Or is it something else altogether, in your view?
I appreciated the film clip you sent. Impressive. I'll need to see the entire film.
My choice to study Russian came from my grandfather, born in Russia, who came here as a teenager. Family legend has it that he left on the run, having studied agriculture in Moscow, before the revolution, where he became enamored of the "power to the people" of Bolshevism. On return to his small town, he evidently spread the word a little too much and one night the chief of police came to his father, the rabbi, and told him he better get my grandfather out of town post haste, because he'd been ordered to arrest him.
How he got from that tiny village to wherever it was from where he departed, how he got passage, etc, all lost in the ravages of time, and I was too stupid to ask such things while he was alive.
I do remember seeing his diploma from that school, and hearing him sing Russian songs. He'd pretty much forgotten the language other than that, and had only a slight accent. An elegant man, he always wore a coat and tie, ended up manager of Metropolitan Life in Portland. But prior to that, after arrival in New York, he worked for a while on the ranch of a Senator Flynn from Pennsylvania, and then, having seen an ad in a newspaper, hopped a train for California, where he took a job on the ranch of Jack London, eventually becoming his livestock foreman, and becoming friends with London. They'd ride the range shooting coyotes to keep them away from the sheep; and when Jack was in Alaska, my grandpa was tasked with keeping an eye on his wife, Charmaine. Many times Grandpa showed me the pistol Jack London gave him. Sadly, I have no idea where it is now.
I loved the sound of the Russian language, learned more songs, had the good fortune to have an excellent teacher for four years of high school in Portland, and another two years in college. When in Russia I was complemented on my accent, told I didn't sound like an American, most of whom had learned terrible pronunciation and cadence, even teachers of it, some of whom were on that study tour. Cringe-worthy.
For the record, my grandmother was quite a lady, too. Born in Portland in the 1890s, her father was one of the founders of Temple Beth Israel there, and she was Oregon's first president of the League of Women Voters. So family legend has it. I know she was very active in it.
You're a terrific writer. I hope you have or will plan to write some sort of autobiography. What a life you've lived!
On Feb 10, 2013, at 1:17 AM, Doris wrote:
Just now I want to respond to your fascinating, compelling question re the origins of Jewish guilt. Why I've not seen this asked before, I can't imagine. I suppose because I haven't hung around temples and cheders very much.
Accepting as a given that being old doesn't give one automatic insight or necessarily correct perceptions, I've been thinking very much about it, compulsively, together with your probings and, recognizing that I cannot think beyond what I've lived, this is what I've come to: that, firstly, Jewish guilt is a form of grandiosity.
Jews, I think particularly the Ashkenazim, live with a consciousness of their own intelligence. have an awareness of their own intelligence and feel an obligation to it.
Throughout history they have managed to do that, as scholars, scientists, healers, and in all the ways in which beautiful Jews have led the way, in
spite of the relenting, formidable obstacles. They have had, have- the intellectual power to find a way. And, so, at a dim, deep intractable level they blame themselves for not having found the capability to do more to alleviate the suffering of their own.
Historically and more currently they haven't, again and again they haven't. They haven't been able to fix the terrible ongoing suffering. Even with that massive collective intellect, with which they've otherwise accomplished so much. How can we be so good at so much, and not be able to solve this?
Secondly, there is the anger. Denied anger (does anger have a place in religion?) Anger concomitant with the helplessness that is inherent in blatant and subtle persecution that never stops, that is always extant in some form, somewhere.
What to do with the anger, how to safely, sagely express it? Turn it inward. Transform it into guilt. If it's our fault we don't have to feel it as anger. Turn it on oneself. Keep it safely contained even though it eats away at the innards of generation after generation. And by now it's generalized, so that we can attach guilt to anything, everything, however disparate and distant from any true etiology.
And, thirdly, with the anger (repressed, of course) is the element of depression. How can there not be depression if one cannot express the anger.
I don't know, but would guess that within the native-born Israelis that exact type of depression is not common, they are able to openly fight out their anger, to fight back, like anyone else. Theirs is not this diffuse, destructive, helpless guilt that gives us emotional cramps.
My observation is that the Catholic guilt is very different from the Jewish guilt. I have been around, observed and talked with- my Catholic-born-and- raised sister-in-law for sixty-nine years, and conclude that Catholic guilt has to do with doing, not being, doing, not feeling. It's black and white doing and/or not doing. With Jews there is no undoing.
So, comparing a little, ruling in, ruling out- I do think (at least at this point in time; I'm only eighty-four; I could change) that: the Ashkenazim, especially, are the intellectual purveyors of guilt. Each generation continues to pay the price because we continue to take the anti-Semites seriously, no matter how much more intelligent than they we might be, what they think of us and what they do to us and what they have always thought of us and what they have always done to us and, worst of all, not being absolutely positive that, somehow we haven't deserved it.
Our grandiosity has led us to a reasonable, confused conclusion, i.e., with our intellectual endeavors we have survived and thrived; therefore and rationally we should have been able to thwart the terrible injustices done to us, somehow. Especially if the anti-Semites are wrong.
I specified, "Ashkenazim", not to discount the Sephardim but because theirs (mine) is the culture I know to be definitively education-oriented; I have known many Sephardim in the Middle East and they were more commerce-oriented.
Once again, a profundity-packed letter.
I guess I need, in my thinking, to distinguish between some sort of Jewish “collective” or inbred guilt, and what I generally think of as an individual tendency. Maybe there’s no difference, really, if Jewish individuals all tend to carry some sort of guilt; but, as I think of it, I consider it something passed from parent to child, in a specific and individual way (you aren’t living up to your potential), rather than a communal (we Jews, as Jews, have something to feel guilty about.)
In my case, anyway, it’s an individual thing. My parents were always giving me that “not living up to your potential line,” no matter what I did, whether it was mowing the lawn or getting all A’s in school. Second in your class? You should have been first. In fifth grade my mom called a conference with me and my teacher and herself, in which they announced I’d be getting all “unsatisfactory” grades because, although I was doing better than anyone in the class, I “didn’t have to work hard” to achieve it. I remember crying; less, I think, because of the bad grades, than about feeling guilty that I was such an unworthy piece of crap. When I arrived at high school, before even setting down my books, I was called into the counselor’s office, who announced that, at my mom’s request, I’d be required to do extra work, a report on the Russian revolution, just for him. For no credit. Just because.
Have you heard of “the impostor syndrome?” The feeling, mostly in successful people, that they really don’t deserve it, that at some point they’ll be found out? That’s me, ever since.
I’d guess my experience isn’t all that unique, and that Jewish parents are more likely than many to take that approach. (Although, nowadays, from what I see of Asian immigrants, they outdo us all…)
So that’s more my view of Jewish guilt: a tendency of parents to instill it in their kids. I tried like hell not to in our kid. Funny thing is, he thinks we pressured him too much, and I think (see what I mean?) that we didn’t pressure him enough. He’s okay, though, in any case.
In the greater view, of course Jews have reasons to feel suspicion, anger, otherness. And, as I said before, an automatic sense of kinship, even with strangers who are Jewish. I can’t quite work that out as a collective sense of guilt, though, and I don’t think it necessarily relates.
I’m intrigued by your comparison with Catholic guilt, and I agree it stems from something different. What a strange game of mental ping-pong: being told constantly that you’re a sinner, about to earn eternal punishment, and then that all you need to do is roll the beads between your fingers, hop into a toll booth, and it all goes away.
Anyhow, I think it’d be fun to get together for coffee or something sometime; my wife, Judy, reads your emails, and she’d love to come along too. Up for it?
On Feb 16, 2013, at 5:42 PM, Doris wrote:
And, so, just for now, I would like to experience the lovely thought, and very much look forward to meeting later.
[Note: there must have been much more to the above, but I can’t find it. I assume I copied and pasted only that line in my response:]
Okay, Doris. Whenever you're ready.
As to my time in Vietnam. Compared to most who served there, I had it pretty good: lived on a large base, slept indoors. We had rocket attacks most nights, one of which hit my barracks, and after which I slept on the floor. But I think I escaped without much in the way of adverse impact. I still don't like the sound of helicopters and fighter jets, but I don't think I'd call the feeling a flashback.
I was drafted at the end of my internship, around the time Judy and I had considered getting married. The draft notice was sort of a shock, which we celebrated by going bowling. (I wrote about it in my book, which you can now get in used condition for about a penny on Amazon.) We figured it either meant we should go ahead or not, and decided to go ahead. We married, at Judy's amazing home in Bellingham (formerly owned by a lumber millionaire, built, I think, in the late 19th or early 20th century, complete with a two-story ballroom, in which the marriage happened. The house had twenty rooms, and was perfect for a family of nine kids, Judy the oldest. Prior to that they'd lived in low income housing, two or three to a bed. When they arrived in Bellingham, the house was owned by the Catholic church, used as a nuns' retreat or something, and had been outfitted with multiple sinks and stalls in the bathrooms. Perfect for eight girls. Each got their own room. The nuns probably assumed, wrongly, that the family was Catholic and sold it to them for less, I'd guess, than the worth of the stained-glass windows!) Next day we drove to Texas to join the Air Force, carrying everything we owned in our little car. (How things have changed in that regard!)
Three months later I flew off to Vietnam and Judy returned home to live with her parents till I got back. We had two great trips out of it, though: first she met me in Hong Kong (there were really cheap flights for wives, and special R and R rates in hotels) and after a week there we went to Bangkok, then Chaing Mai. Months later there was another R and R trip to Hawaii.
It was weird being apart for a year after being married only three months, but, as these things go, it seems to have worked out. Retrospectively I'm glad I served, it being maybe the seminal event of my generation. Can't say I exactly enjoyed it; but got something useful out of it: understanding a little bit about the folly of war, and of what it can do to people.
On Mar 2, 2013, at 12:10 AM, Doris wrote:
I so enjoyed the delightful background of Judy's growing up in Bellingham. Driving around there (it's been years for me- and when it seemed such an uncomplex, lovely little town) who could imagine this particular nugget of a vignette as having happened there?
I have been wonderfully enriched by our correspondence and additionally with your columns.
I think that just now old age has not only caught up with me; it has tackled me, I hope only temporarily am I down for the count and I hope to be back later, with the intent of nudging more so-interesting stuff from your life-experiences, your perspectives, and gleaning more of your Jewish sensibilities,
I noticed in the last Oracle the Temple Beth Or means House of Light. That's very lovely, I think.
Thank you, Sid.
Geez, Doris, that sounded sort of like a sign-off. I hope you're okay. I look forward to hearing from you again.
I have so wanted to get an email off to you and it's been a challenge, both from a miserable, cranky computer and because I just finished another battle, stained but not bloody. Eighty-four years old, and kicked off the Cancer Survivors' Network! The cancer isn't the issue; I mention it only in the context of- can you imagine- this utter disgrace!
I'm kidding re the disgrace, but a battle did ensue, a power struggle; I'm reinstated, and my conversation with you is about pyrrhic victories. It occurs to me that, with some exceptions, one cannot know whether- in the long run- one has won a battle. Who knows how it will ultimately turn in the near or distant future? When is it really finished?
In any case, I so often have seemed to be in a battle of some sort. I used to think that I'd have been a good sabra. I rode a horse as well as any ranch hand (I was intrigued by your grandfather's time on a ranch in Oregon, so atypical of an immigrant), and got myself out of all sorts of situations. But one time, in Israel, I talked a kibbutz hierarchy into allowing me on as a volunteer (I had to especially plead because I was a little over-age for the acceptance). He gave a qualified okay, an unqualified knowing, Israeli shrug of the shoulders, and I was outta there within twenty-four hours (or less). The Israelis really read people. And he really read me. And I found out that I wasn't so tough. At least not that kind of tough.
I am enjoying your columns, for me like reading steeped with the familiarity of the around- the-dining room-table feeling. Sid, may I ask? Has your mother at some point allowed herself to experience the pleasure of your accomplishments?
I so enjoyed reading about your and Judy's courtship and marriage. I hope to read your book and all else that you've suggested. I think that there will be time, soon.
I understand your retrospectively being glad that you served in Vietnam and the kind of understanding that came of it.
In my generation and that war and my family it was different. My brother and cousin went, but there was terrible sadness and worry, not the pride I saw in Gentile families. I particularly remember the gold stars in the windows of people who had lost a son (probably not a daughter) and as a kid I knew that that signified a distinct difference between Jews and non-Jews. Jews as I knew them would not do that. There would be no pride in this, only grief. And I could not comprehend the non-Jews.
Sid, this is short, uninteresting, but I want you to know that I value our correspondence very much. And your mensch-ness.
Hi Doris, Sorry for being slow to get back to you.
Intriguing: how does one get kicked off the survivors' network? Did you die?
"Pyrrhic victory" was the answer to a Jeopardy question the other night. No one knew it. Surprising. But your question is a good one: there's never enough time to know, is there? And that applies to victories small and large. Or, for that matter, losses, too.
My mom used to say, and, as I recall, my grandpa confirmed, that he could put a quarter on his saddle and then ride, and when he came back the quarter was still there. I have pics of him in his jodhpurs, or whatever those riding pants with the bulgy thighs are called. And above-the-calf riding boots. A dashing figure.
I probably exaggerated the extent of my mom's dissatisfactions; mostly manifested before I became a doc; after which she'd embarrass me by introducing me to her friends: "This is my son, Doctor Schwab." I'd usually respond by saying, "Please, call me Doctor." And she was a wonderful grandma to our son. Interestingly, as she regressed to childlike as she descended through the stages of Alzheimer's, she'd say the most lovey-dovey things to me, like I never recall hearing when I was a child. Then, it was somewhere between uncomfortable and sad, with a touch of touching.
Interesting comment about gold star families, and Jews. Putting a star in the window. Never thought of it.
My brother has been to Israel several times; his daughter had a Bat Mitzvah or something akin to it at the Wailing Wall. He keeps telling me I should go. Interesting: he had two daughters, and the younger, a beauty who teased him and made him laugh, and who was the sort that everyone considered their best friend, a truly wonderful girl, died at age 20 of a pulmonary embolus. It devastated all of them, of course; for years he went to her grave every day, never left town. Said he didn't want to feel better, because to do so would be a blight on her memory. And he became more religious, giving perhaps the best argument of all: I choose to believe, because I want to think there's some meaning in this.
His older daughter just had a baby at age 42, bringing great joy to my brother and his wife. That daughter is among the most brilliant people in the world, summa cum laude from Harvard, PhD from Berkeley, teaches and does immunology research at NYU. A red-haired sweet beauty, to meet her you'd think she was just a regular gal, charming and funny and shy. My brother is concerned that, at about six months old, Tali isn't talking yet, or writing theses.
Still think you need to write a memoir.
On Mar 24, 2013, at 3:37 PM, Doris wrote:
As far as I know I haven't died but how can I really know?
My computer seems to be erratically dying and there could easily be a symbiosis between it and me. It has such power. It's like a parent: there's such a need for it but no essential knowledge of what makes it tick.
In any case, re the Cancer Survivors' Network: I had been writing a blog, many chapters, and not the conventional blog, and probably something of a dilemma for the hierarchy used to a particular genre of blog, and they summarily disconnected my access. I had written- shed of all hypocrisy that I could recognize- leaving bare a lot of raw observations. But these were- are- my truths; I received nothing but appreciative comments from other CSN-ers, but I can also understand the discomfort of the people who oversee and are responsible for the site.
I'm know that I unsettled them with stuff I wrote but I think that, in the end, a lot of people have a lot more substance than anticipated, don't shrink away when challenged and, rather, move toward and are attracted by strength. At least, the responses have indicated this. But, primarily, the motivation is self-centered; my own challenge and determination to divest myself of pretense. Finally, Channel 5, "Get Jesse”, resolved it for me.
Sid, yes, re pyrrhic victories: good point! "losses, too".
Very impressive, your grandfather, the quarter and the saddle. I think that he must have ridden Western in order to keep that quarter on the saddle, even though he wore English-style jodhpurs. Did you know him at all, Sid?
By the way, I read in last Sunday's Herald something about, "David Schwab", in Prineville (sp?), Oregon.
I think that you didn't exaggerate at all in relating your mother's dissatisfactions while you were growing toward adulthood; that it was, in truth, just as you previously described your experiences. Your feelings have softened as she softened. It is touching that she showed you the other sweet, loving self as the Alzheimer's progressed, that she could allow herself to be with your son as she couldn't be with you, that she at some level perceived your academics as a direct reflection of who she was and was so anxious and threatened by any possibility of your not succeeding as she needed you to.
It is so sad re your brother and his- the family's- all of you- terrible loss of his daughter. A huge gaping ragged wound filled with anguish. And I don't believe what are (to me) the foolish pacifiers, "time heals", etc. I think that time doesn't heal, it covers over but it doesn't take much to uncover. To live without meaning is asking too much of most people. Was your niece, "Lori"? I tried to read the headstone on the grave pictured on your page (I don't know the proper computer terminologies) but the print was too small for me to be certain.
I think that choice is often not really a choice toward the positive but rather an avoidance of the negative, e.g., fear, guilt. And aversion that one must think of as one's own decision.
I hear your sorrow- and I also hear your pride in your wonderful, accomplished surviving niece. I can imagine the joy that Tali brings to the family. If this helps at all (and I don't think for a moment that they're really worried) re Tali not yet speaking at least five languages and doing her theses: my niece didn't speak until she was three, and then spoke spontaneously like a much older child and checked out with an IQ of 180. She was taking it all in all that time. (Caveat and Caution: She graduated from Wharton, did very well in school and afterward, worked as little as possible, then never again, and became a complete, dedicated and competent hedonist, mostly lounging in Thailand.)
You know, you might not need Israel. Your brother did, for his sorrow. I did. I needed to feel like a Jew amongst Jews, without the fear and alienation I'd always felt. I've been there five times. But I never had a sense of belonging there, either, because I didn't know how to be a Jew, here or there. But there was a good, simple, pleasant feeling. (Foolish, once in a while: A high school student, sitting next to me on a bus, asked me what I thought of Henry Kissinger, and I gushed. After all, a Jew close to the top in our government! Of course I naively gushed! He gave me one of those looks. As I politically matured I understood his look and I blushed when I thought back.) I found that, unlike the mostly Lithuanian Jews I grew up amongst, there was a diversity amongst Jews that was new to me. I was arrested one night in Haifa, hauled away to jail in a paddy wagon, in the back with a bunch of drunken Jewish men. Really, it was, for reasons too involved to explain here, satisfying to me to see this. I think, now, sitting here, writing this, primarily absent was the feeling of being judged.
The rooted Jewishness I now have, that stuck, and that I welcome and value within me, was seeded amongst Iranian Jewish peasants. Actually, as I think further, many of the wealthy Jews there, from Russia and Iraq, as well. Again, the absence of being judged and, rather, openly and warmly accepted into their lives, cultures.
But, my point of pride in Israel just now, is that my niece is dog-sitting Shimon Peres' granddog. She adores the dog and his son adores that she adores the dog so it's a good arrangement. She is married to a Moroccan Jew whose father was the "grand" (or is it, "great") rabbi under the previous king; they were good friends and Morocco was good for the Jews then. As you can imagine the grand/great rabbi was pretty religious, so fortunately he was already dead when his son married my niece, whose mother is an Irish (former) Catholic and looks like the prototype of one, so much so that she could not go to her daughter's wedding in Israel. One look at her and his family would have known immediately that there was a fox in the chicken house (not the best analogy, I know), and that my niece could not possibly pass muster with such religious Jews.
Sid, I so enjoy your columns. Pharmaceutical charlatanism was an educational mitzvah. And last Sunday's tour through the body was, truly, a privilege. It's the education, the practical application; it's the smooth learning, it's the explanations in terms that slide down the throat easily, no gulps. The heart surgery was a fantastic opportunity to go through that door that says, "Staff Only!" I haven't yet had a chance to read today's column.
Yes, I have written a memoir. I did all the writing and hired Lauren Slater, a much-published writer based in Massachusetts, Jewish-- important to me, to organize it and hang it together properly. I hadn't realized that she had a very bad reputation amongst the academics in Psychology. She didn't perform as contracted, it took four years to finally go to trial, which was set for June 6th, 2011, in Boston, and on May 20, I got the diagnosis. So everything came to a sudden halt, a tremendous amount of work on the part of my extraordinary attorney, the good judges who were scheduled, etc.
Finally, we went to trial July 15, 2012, with a newly-appointed judge and a jury of mostly young people between school terms who were there very and obviously reluctantly.
And, as it turned out, I could have kept the first trial date without it having made a difference. Also, it turned out that she purloined some of my book and it was published by Creative Non-Fiction- I can't recall the fellow's name- based in New Jersey. I didn't pursue this; my attorney was on contingency and I simply could not ask him to do any more.
Sid, if I find it on my older computer, I would like to send you a picture of my grandfather. Please, not for you to comment one way or the other, but simply because he's a connection I've come to be proud of. He was a rabbi, but quite exceptional, I think, in that he allowed my mother to adamantly argue with him about religion- so unusual in that environment, in Belarus.
Happy Passover. Yes.
Well, we successfully married off our son this past weekend, in Portland. It was a happy time. They've been together for about nine years, and we've thought she was perfect for a long time. It was a very simple wedding, just twenty people, immediate family members, of which there were about 15 of hers and 5 of ours. Nice folks. It was a non-religious affair, conducted by an "officiant" who did a proper job of describing the importance of love and family. When it came time to say "I do," our son said "I definitely do." Which we loved! So did Lindsey, the blushing bride.
I could say your writing leaves much to be desired: not in quality. In the sense of wanting to know what the heck the story is with Get Jesse. And the paddy wagon. Not necessarily in that order.
Yes, Lori was my brother's daughter. The other picture on my website is of the similar memorial to the daughter of one of Judy's sisters who died around the same age, early twenties. Also a beautiful soul, dearly missed. Both young women were beauties, and were the sort that everyone considered their best friend: loving, caring, and great lovers of life. Two similar tragedies. Hard to find meaning in it.
The Prineville Schwabs are unrelated. Catholics, I believe. But I assume he's related to Les Schwab, the tire magnate, who started there.
What a story of your purloined memoir! I assume you still have a copy; you could self-publish. Also, my brother's wife has been doing memoirs for people for several years; interviewing them, transcribing, creating books. She lives part time in Berkeley and NYC, and I could find out if she ever does her interviews by phone. I'd assume there are people around here who do it, too. But I bet your writing would be part of the pleasure, both of doing and reading it.
Not exactly a case of purloined writing, something I wrote about on my surgical blog, such a unique medical story that I doubt it's happened elsewhere, appeared as a plot line on a medical TV show ("Grey's Anatomy") a couple of years after I wrote it. I didn't feel bad about it; just wanted to know if one of their writers had read my blog as a source of ideas. I never tried to find out, though.
So now begins a time of vicarious living, though our son and daughter in law, who plan to get working on producing a kid right away. We sent them on a trip to NYC a couple of years ago for our son's thirtieth birthday, and it was amazing what pleasure we got from knowing what they were doing there; Lindsey regaled us with texts and the occasional phone call. She'd never been there and was delighted at everything. We'll try not to hover.
On Apr 7, 2013, at 12:25 AM, Doris wrote:
What a joyful way to spend a weekend! Congratulations! Mazel tov! It sounds like a wonderful relationship that they have- and that you have with them.
Vicarious is a great way to go when everyone enjoys the sharing.
Then you and Judy both lost a very young niece. I think that there is no meaning in it. Those pains just are. That's the hard part. The grotesque pain, and it just is. How does a surgeon who has lived and worked within the beautiful physiology of the body sum it up? I think that there is no meaning, but I also think that there is no summing up.
The story of the paddy wagon is one in which the less known, the more intriguing. More explanation, less intriguing. Inverse proportion. Still, for you- I'll tell it. As encapsulated as possible.
I had taken a freighter- which took a few passengers- from Naples to Haifa, and got in around midnight with no hotel reservations. The cab driver made the choice for me- which turned into a seedy hotel with a room with a free-standing shower in an upright wooden box in the middle of the room. Miraculously it had plumbing, but no light inside, and so in order to have some I had to leave its door partly open.
As I showered I saw the door to the room open and recognized the desk clerk- peering in. What his intentions would have eventually been I don't know. I yelled, I mean- really yelled- at him, he closed the door, I got dressed, packed my bags, went downstairs, and told him I was leaving. He demanded payment for the room, I told him no way and he grabbed my bags and tucked them behind his desk and called the cops. They came, he told them I was a prostitute and they took me off to jail in the paddy wagon.
The good thing is that I always found my experiences in some way interesting. But somehow this one really impressed upon me what it would be like to be new in a country without the language and at the mercy of anyone who wanted to be exploitative, cruel. Cognitively I knew, but this one I really felt. I was confident that I could get out of this but I felt the awful vulnerability of those who couldn't- whatever the situation- because of their unfamiliarity with the language and the culture.
Thank you, Sid, for the mention of your brother's wife and her work with memoirs. I have a copy; it's quite long. Also, it's pretty grim. If I were to give it a color I would call it, "Jewish Grim". Slater compared my writing to Raymond Carver. I haven't read any of his writing but blurbs I've looked at on the internet indicate that his books are on the dark side. I don't know how much pleasure there would be for your sister-in-law to work with it.
Unrelated except by loose association- The "Get Jesse" was the outcome of my blog on the Cancer Survivors' Network. The head honchos had, apparently, enough of my kind of writing and cut off my access to my blog without notice and refused to reply to my queries with any explanation. They wouldn't respond to my squeals, ranting, or anything else, but when Channel 5 ventured into it I had my blog back.
It's really fascinating about your surgical blog, the medical story and "Grey's Anatomy". Is there somewhere I can access it?
Sid, I do enjoy breaking bread with you over the computer. Your last column, regarding how our brains betray us, was such good reading. Your first concept is, in my mind, so complex and so compelling and so integral to who we become- all the variables that go into perceptions and conclusions- that I'm going on to your second. But first, just an example, re your first concept: I once asked my brother if he loved our father, and he said, "Yes", and I asked him why. In spite of his extraordinary intellect his response was, simply, "He was my father".
Re inborn differences and acquired beliefs, if I may: A child grows up in a family to which the child wants a sense of belonging. Choice is not present. The beliefs (or absence of) are built into the environment. Unless a family actively encourages independent thinking as the child grows- he goes to church, school and other activities which reinforce the belief system. For the child to be different is threatening for both the parents and the child. It is an investment in identity and in most families is critical to psychological survival. Most parents need their children to mirror themselves. That investment is compounded repeatedly and becomes who one is- to himself and how he is comfortable being perceived.
As little knowledge as I have I believe that it's the belief system that changes the brain over time. There used to be- perhaps it has gone by the wayside by now- a theory called, "kindling", in which it is thought that brain cells, if unused in the early years if life, e.g., language skills, etc., die. So what is left? Those which are used and nurtured.
What I find so very interesting is what occurs fairly often when there is a personal impact and how it is handled, e.g., Cheney and his gay daughter, Portman and his gay son, the fellow (I can't recall his name) who was shot and paralyzed when in the company of Reagan and became, with his wife, the strongest of anti-gun advocates, etc. In other words, they choose to- and are able to- move to the opposite of their bellicose belief systems when they are in both a personal and public dilemma in spite of the concrete changes in brain and personality. And to their credit.
I'm looking forward to tomorrow's column!
Without knowing, I suspect these apparent brain differences between liberals and conservatives are a combination of inborn and acquired. But who knows? It's certainly known that injured brains have the capacity to rewire themselves, and that newly-used regions may enlarge. So the anatomic differences could certainly develop after birth, from continued use. On the other hand, I sort of like the idea that certain differences evolved as well, and that there are differing pathways because of age-old evolutionary pressures.
Some story, the paddy wagon. Women are at a major disadvantage, traveling. You, however, seem to have the required amount of pluck to rise above it.
My most recent column generated a surprising amount of heat; probably my fault for the cynical tone, but people do tend to go off in unintended directions. One email was a veiled threat. Southern boy. Other than the obvious facetiousness (no one really expects The South to be cut loose, although it's they that lined up after Obama's reelection demanding secession!); but the point remains that there seems a concentration there of people anxious to institute their own form of Sharia law, to ban science, to suppress voting, and to obstruct at every turn. Guess I should have been clearer. On the other hand, the emails I got were about three to one in support.
Below are links to the specific surgical story (written when I was a little less succinct), followed by a link to my final post on that blog, which contains links to several of its posts.
On Apr 26, 2013, at 1:22 AM, Doris wrote:
What a treasure chest of surgery-related stories you sent to me! How I'm enjoying them! What a prolific and enjoyable writer you are. I love being able to read from your eyes, your perspectives into that world. While I'm slow in responding to your email I am enjoying your columns and the responses to them on the Opinion page.
And while one knows that the American Sharias are out there (as are our in-country-grown Nazis) it is more than interesting to see them elicited- and out of the closet- by your columns.
One cannot be rational with irrational people and in these cases I think that they feel "special" and with a sense of empowerment, and so emotion rules, but -you know- I'm big on "investment" and one wonders what more is involved in their ego investment in that particular belief system. (It sounds incongruous but I sense them having a stuffed vacuousness.) And they want to feel justified at any opportunity to feel and target their aggressive anger and so, I think, would be loath to pause and recognize a facetious or cynical tone. I'm glad that the emails were by far in support.
Sid, I really didn't have any amount of pluck to do my travels and experiences. I simply never learned those particular kinds of fears. It's your kind of pluck that I don't have. I admire how you express yourself publicly and fearlessly with gusto (and, of course, particularly since I agree with your positions). I am a coward in some important areas.
And I enjoyed your preference for the evolutionary development of different pathways for liberals and conservatives. There is an elitism there that the "acquired" doesn't offer, and which I appreciate, like, very much. Yes, that's nice.
I so like corresponding with you. It's stimulating, broadens my world in lovely ways. I won't be writing for a while, only for a while. I'm not being or feeling in the least maudlin, but preparing to die well takes one's time and conscientious attention, and I'm at an age at which it's simply a reasonable and practical effort.
Actually, it's a goal-oriented, meaningful endeavor like anything else, i.e., it's one more challenge and I want to do it well. The difference is that, although to my knowledge I haven't died before, have not practiced this before- I have good clarity of what I want to accomplish, and how, and am somewhat jazzed about these projects ahead.
And in the meantime I have these wonderful, special, readings that you sent.
I can only infer from your mysterious musings that there are things going on, serious things, that I wish I knew about. I won't expect a reply at this point; but know that I've come, easily, to care about you and to wish you well, whatever that might mean. And if, as you seem to be suggesting, time is of the essence, I'd love it if it could include, somehow, somewhere, a moment to spare to meet.
On Apr 26, 2013, at 12:29 PM, Doris wrote:
Sid, I meant to mention: As you look across the water there is a small island, Gedney, "Hat " Island. You might easily have been there or have had no interest or curiosity about it. It's a "private" island, in theory only property owners and guests can be on it. That's loosely adhered to; occasionally one is asked on the ferry. If you haven't been it's a lovely day's respite, it's charming, so uncommercial, so quiet, so close, a different world with just clunkers ad a few ATV's. No food to buy there, nada. One must take one's own. If you have any interest I would be so pleased anytime you would want to go. My property numbers are **** and ***. I'll send the ferry schedule. When they moved the ferry's dock I had a hard time finding the new one; it's very near the Yacht Club, but you can check everything out on their website.
We know it well. It's right across from our house, and we look at it daily except when the fog gobbles it up. A friend has a home down on the water on the south side, and their son and ours were friends. Occasionally we spied on them with our telescope when they partied over there. No laws broken, far as we could tell. We've visited a couple of times, but it's been years.
On May 26, 2013, at 1:16 AM, Doris wrote:
I just want to send greetings and to tell you how very much I continue to enjoy your columns- with their intellectual chutzpah! And the courage of your convictions. And, oh, the wonderful information that you share.
Here, of any consequence I can only say that I am finding it somewhat exhilarating to have the time be able to prepare to die well, that is, mindfully and more responsibly than I have lived much of my life. There is a satisfaction in this. I don't expect to die tomorrow but I'm eighty-four and with cancer and so it has a concrete meaningfulness.
Sid, I'd like to share with you an observation, one that might be obvious to others but for me newly conceptualized: Something I've come to appreciate is what I perceive as more particular to Judaism: that doing the "right thing" is generally internally-driven rather than externally-motivated, i.e., appearances, what others might think, not wanting to be criticized, and so forth as it seems to be in the other major religions in this country. Of course I acknowledge again that this is a generalization; it's simple, still, it contributes to a very lovely, long-awaited conscious pride in my being Jewish.
My best regards,
I've thought the same thing, and for the same reasons it's always contributed to a sense of pride in my Jewish heritage. It occurred to me when young that most religions encourage doing good by threat, i.e., if you don't you boil in oil for all eternity; and if you do you will be rewarded. Jews, on the other hand, being mostly silent on afterlife (and, in fact, saying "they still live on in the acts of goodness they performed and in the hearts of those who cherish their memory") make it clear that there's no reason to do good other than for its own sake. It's why I consider atheism to be of a higher morality than Christianity, especially those of the self-righteous variety.
I hope you'll consider meeting, out of curiosity if nothing else, before the end. But if not, I'll understand, and will always be wishing you well.
On May 26, 2013, at 11:22 PM, Doris wrote:
Sid, I so appreciate your refinement and extrapolation of this observation. It expresses my sense of it precisely.
I want to be forthright about meeting with you- without generating sympathy. I abhor sympathy, for me it's demeaning.
My mother made it clear to me, without reservation, that anything anyone saw as being "good" or positive in me, or that anything I might have seen as being of value in myself- was fraudulent. In college and then throughout a span of the middle years I was able to run ahead of this through, primarily, distractions. But in the last few years it has caught up again, fairly powerfully.
And so at this juncture it is more comfortable to accept its strength.
I have thought that when I die- and if there is some sort of afterlife- and if my mother sees me coming- she'll run like hell! It's a comical image for me.
If these feelings change the first thing I would like to do is to meet with you!
Not too likely to change after 85 years, I'd guess. But I understand.
On Jun 29, 2013, at 11:00 PM, Doris wrote:
No response anticipated.
I only want you to know how much I continue to enjoy your columns and, oh boy! the surgeonsblogs and your other writings. How special that you open up that world to others.
Sid, you are a wonderful teacher, and so I feel like a wonderful student. And at this age it's very nice.
Thanks, Doris. I've missed you. You've been keeping a low profile. Hope everything is okay. Or okay-ish.
On Sep 20, 2013, at 11:16 AM, Doris wrote:
Sid, thank you so much for the unique, so-enriching, so-meaningful journey, not to be found anywhere else, with anyone else.
An invaluable gift.
Well, our son and his wife are officially working on it, as of this month. No seedlings yet, far as we know.
And of course the offer remains: I make house calls.
On Sep 21, 2013, at 9:41 PM, Doris wrote:
Thank you, Sid.
I've gone from participant in life to an ambivalent observer, mixed feelings
about it. There are good certainties and not so good certainties, but a most lovely one that I have is that of you and Judy as incomparable grandparents.
How nice to hear from you, Doris. How are you doing? The big news around here is that our son’s wife is quite pregnant, and our first grandkid (it’s a nameless boy) is due in June.
On Feb 24, 2014, at 8:33 PM, Doris wrote:
You are one lovely man!
[I assume the above was in reference to a column, based on what I wrote in response. I can’t dig up what I wrote around that time.]
I heard from a lady who disagrees, quite vehemently. Her note ended with the words “Shame on you.”
Hope you’re well, and, maybe sometime, well enough to meet somewhere for a cuppa.
On Apr 14, 2016, at 10:42 AM, Doris wrote:
Sid, I feel so deeply honored, privileged to have been allowed to share in this professional, psychological, emotional world of yours.
What a singular and exquisite growth experience.
Thanks, Doris. Such a pleasure to hear from you.
And, for your viewing pleasure, here’s our grandson about a week ago, on his second birthday. I used the picture as the title for the Herald article when I posted it on my blog.
[Again, in response to a column, I think:]
On Jun 9, 2016, at 6:52 PM, Doris wrote:
That was a treasure, Sid.
Having the combination of your mind and your medicine is- truly- a treasure.
[And now, sadly, there seems to be about a one-year gap in my “sent” file. I’m certain we conversed several times in that interim.]
On Jul 29, 2017, at 6:22 AM, Doris wrote:
I don't think that this will get into print--- but I see Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump as being very much with the same pathological/ psychological profiles. Who is there to restrain either one of them?
I hope that all is well with you and those darling grandchildren.
Date: July 28, 2017 9:36:00 AM PDT
Subject: Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, twins.
This country's most dire threat lies within the fact that Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un are so much alike. Between them their abject lack of judgment and vision creates the foundation for a most destructive result.
Each is extremely immature psychologically with little impulse control, with each having an imperviousness to consequences. Each is driven by personal vengeance and each has an insatiable need for power and control.
This is a most ominous time in this country with the threat being from within as well as from without.
It’s true. And, as in N. Korea and other dictatorships, Americans are subject to nonstop propaganda, from the W. House and from rightwing media, such that nearly half believe the Russia story is entirely fake. Simply amazing, and depressing beyond words.
And now, to erase the above image, here’s a couple of the latest. They’re coming up this way next week, to which we are looking forward. We visit them in Portland about once/month.
On Jul 30, 2017, at 11:00 AM, Doris wrote:
Sid, I just read your bullet-point verses in Saturday's paper.
We ask a lot of you.
Limericks are easy. Real poetry is hard.
They published your letter! (No surprise, actually.)
If you’re able to see videos, here my latest favorite:
If it makes a difference in your expectations, the video is of Asher helping in the kitchen.
On Aug 3, 2017, at 2:10 PM, Doris wrote:
Thank you, Sid. Very much. There is some satisfaction in small stuff while you lift the heavy stuff.
And there is progress. His own compulsive needs are driving him to self-destruct.
Re the video: I could get only a black square. My computer is from 2004; I'm from 1928, and we've never really come to a good understanding. Really a huge generational gap.
I really want to see this and so I'm forwarding it to my daughter so that I shall hopefully be able to see it on her computer later.
Sid, you make an important, courageous difference in our time, in our lives.
Here’s another video, very brief: the back story is his mom works 2 nights a week and she’s been sending him pictures of herself with a sad face to show how much she misses him. One night he told his dad he wanted to send her a video in response. Totally his idea:
On Aug 3, 2017, at 4:42 PM, Doris wrote:
I am looking forward to seeing it. He exudes pure joy.
[Pretty sure this was a response to another of her letters to the editor:]
Succinct, and straight to the point.
Here’s to a happier new year.
And that’s the end of my records. It may well be that we had no further communication until Doris’s daughter phoned in May 2018, to say she was in hospice and wanted to see me and Judy. If it was under the worst of circumstances, we finally got to meet face to face, and it was a joy for all of us. Our conversations in person were every bit as wonderful as the emails.
More wonderful, of course: in person is much better, always.