RIP, Gail D’Angelo aka AnniAbbi

Gail D'Angelo with her son Vinnie, my best friend in high school.

Gail D’Angelo with her son Vinnie, my best friend in high school.

If you’re lucky, and I mean very lucky, you have a second mother like Gail D’Angelo.

Pete, the third of her four boys, and I were in the same homeroom.  He wore an “I’m a Pepper” t-shirt to soccer tryouts and instantly impressed everyone with his skill. (I didn’t make the team.)

Pete became my closest friend in high school and I spent a lot of time at the D’Angelo’s home on Tappan Street.

What a home it was.

The family had already lived in Denver, Atlanta, Memphis and Houghton by the time they arrived in Brookline in 1979. These transitions and times in remote areas like Michigan’s Upper Peninsula had helped form vicelike bonds between family members, but the truth is they would have been tight wherever they lived.

“We were always embraced and told we were loved,” Pete once told me. I grew up not always having that feeling, so was drawn like so many others to their house.

Six o’clock meal times were sacred.

Pete talked about how he and James, in the midst of tightly contested basketball games at Dean Park, upon finding out that it was five minutes shy of dinner, would leave without compunction and sprint as fast as they could to make it home on time to consume the latest batch of Mrs. D’s legendary red sauce.

The D’Angelos watched television together in the living room, and the heart of the home was the long wooden dining room table, site of many epic conversations.

You better have an opinion and come ready to defend it.

Any topic was fair game.

Had there ever been even a 12-year period in American history in which the nation had been true to its lofty creed?  Did gay and lesbian people make things better or more difficult for themselves by protesting?  Was it legitimate to miss the wedding of the daughters of one of Dr. D’Angelo’s closest friends for very good seats at a Patriots exhibition game with and courtesy of Sam Matz?

In issues of art, the ultimate question was whether you would hang the artist’s work on your wall.

All were debated in passionate and vigorous fashion in conversations that lasted hours.  While there was plenty of posturing, yelling and more than a few insults thrown into the mix, there was at base a core commitment to seeking a higher level of understanding through dialogue, a quest for truth.

A series of guests sat at the table. One night could bring Neil Lempert, one of Dr. D’s oldest and closest childhood friends from Astoria. Another could bring Boston University colleagues like Tony Mavretic.  And a third could bring All-American Venezuelan soccer player Che Che Vidal.

All were welcomed into the fabric of D’Angelo family life.

The result was easily the most creative incubator I have ever had the privilege to experience. Cartoons, painting, sculpture, pottery, rap music delivered by The Goats, tampon cases, t-shirt businesses, books and movies—all emerged from conversations at 338 Tappan Street and the home of Henry and Gail D’Angelo.

Her gentle face framed by round glasses, Mrs. D. was at the core of it.  Her kindness radiated out from her center and suffused her being with tenderness. Her greeting on the phone, “Hi, dear,” always conveyed a love that enveloped you and made you feel cared about, seen and safe.   She and Dr. D’Angelo taught their four boys to be fully themselves, to know that family meant most, and to cultivate their unique gifts and talents. All three parts stuck, and the boys have grown into husbands and fathers who have loved their children and wives in the same fierce way Dr. and Mrs. D. did during their quarter century of marriage.

She tended to Dr. D faithfully and without complaint during the four years after he was diagnosed with chronic leukemia. Along with Gioia, the boys’ Sicilian grandmother, she was right next to him as he took his final breath in the home and with the family the two of them had made.

I offered to leave so they could all be alone.

She refused.

“You are one of us,” she said.

I ran the Boston Marathon in Dr. D’s honor just over two weeks later.

I had spoken with Mrs. D. before the race and said I might pass by their home around 3:00 p.m.

She was there just at the time, standing atop the wall near Star Market at the intersection of Beacon and Tappan Street.

She waved wordlessly to me.

I was cramping and had been doing a combination of walking and running for the previous four miles, but I kept going.  Her silent reminder of why I was running helped me finish.

Dr. D’s death marked the beginning for me of Mrs. D’s next phase, one in which she moved out in the world, returning to and developing her artistic pursuits. A Batik artist when she was younger, she very well may have gotten there anyway, but I always felt that losing the only man she had loved that way at a comparatively young age made her bolder and braver.

This new period led to some seriously zany moments.

Like the time she announced years before any of the boys had wives or children that she wanted her grandmother name to be “Scissors” and proceeded to elaborate on her decision-making process and the benefits of what she had chosen.

Or when she came downstairs to do a line-by-line reading of a song she had written in neat cursive letters on white lineless paper called, “I’m an over 50 white mother rapper.”

Or when she heard Vinnie’s friend Randy Kolovsky bang away on the guitar at the basement, turned to the rest of us at the dinner table and declared, “He’s really fighting it down there.”

In her art, Mrs. D. took on the theme of the housedress. She subverted the era in which she has been and represented the dress in a different, less constraining and confining way.

Her work gained her mention in the New York Times, where a reviewer described her ”The 1st to Last Homemade Housedress,” as “a tissue-paper sewing pattern with elaborate instructions for embroidering sexist vulgarities in strategic locations.”

She won recognition from national women’s art organizations and earned fellowships at prestigious art colonies like Macdowell in North Carolina and Ragdale in Lake Forest.

In an article for a MacDowell newsletter Mrs. D. described herself as an inveterate piler, concluding that “If MacDowell is about anything, it’s about the primacy of the artist’s work space. I have, for my own mental health and enrichment, kept that lesson going in my own home. Give or take a pizza box.”

She wrote these words and did her work under the name Anni Abbi.

In this regard she was only following her children.  For the additional hook vocal we shared for the song “TV Cops” on Goats’ debut album, Tricks of the Shade, Paul William D’Angelo became Paul Diesel.  After a trip to South Africa in which he danced on the streets of Soweto, Gus morphed into Gazzi.  Pete turned into Vinnie Angel and then Vinnie the Tamponcase Salesman.  James had so many different names stretching back to high school that you couldn’t come close to remembering them all, and I have a pretty good memory. (Think Oatie of the Goaties, Tommy Rome and Jaimito Situchi for starters.)

Mrs. D. came to Lake Forest shortly after Dunreith, Aidan and I had moved to Evanston.

I saw her work and we drove in to watch the July 4 fireworks that cascaded over Lake Michigan with my family.

Then, as always, she gave me the same affirmation, this time as a husband and father.

She had done that for years.

Before Dunreith, Aidan and I had ventured west from Massachusetts, we spent parts of three summers at the D’Angelo’s small, rustic red cabin that abutted Cushman Pond in Center Lovell, Maine.  We’d canoe around the pond, play Lego soccer, bury Aidan in the sand at the nearby beach and eat freshly cooked lobster every night.  We’ve gone to a lot of places as a family since then, and Center Lovell still remains near the very top of treasured, peaceful memories.

I’d call every so often after we moved to Chicago.

Even though we didn’t see each other as much, the connection was the same.

Mrs. D. was always encouraging, her voice carrying the same love and care.

We last saw each other at a book launch event in the auditorium of Pierce School in 2012.  The Alzheimer’s had already started its relentless, inexorable advance, but she knew who and where she was, and was happy and grateful to be there with James, his lovely wife Ronah and their son, Enrico, named for her late husband.



Mrs. D., my beautiful, gentle, feisty, endlessly-loving second mother.

Thank you for giving my childhood best friend and his brothers life.

Thank you for helping me become a husband, father and man.

Although your passing brings us great grief, we are deeply grateful for the nearly 50 years and countless moments we shared with you and for all that you gave us by how you lived.



An Enlivening Heritage: Reintroducing Robert Coles

NOTE: I wrote this essay for The Common Review in 2012.  Dear friend Danny Postel commissioned and edited the piece.

Books by Robert Coles discussed in this essay:

Handing One Another Along: Literature and Social Reflection, edited by Trevor Hall and Vicki Kennedy, Random House, 304 pages

Lives We Carry with Us: Profiles of Moral Courage, edited by David D. Cooper, The New Press, 240 pages

To understand Robert Coles’s two latest books, it helps to have seen his writing chair.

Comfortable and unassuming, it sits with a blanket draped over it in the study of the three-story house in Concord, Massachusetts, where he and his late wife, Jane, raised their three boys.

The wall opposite the chair features a gallery of framed black-and-white photographs of his personal heroes, many of whom appear in his books—here is William Carlos Williams, there is Walker Percy, and there, in the bottom row, is a smiling Bruce Springsteen, his arm around Coles’s shoulder, like a brother. The chair is where Coles has sat and written, on long sheets of yellow lined paper, dozens of books, including volumes of poetry, a novel, and books for children and adults, as well as thousands of scholarly articles and reviews.

It was in that chair that Coles wrote the books that made him a major public intellectual in the 1960s and 1970s, before the term was in use. Children of Crisis, a five-volume series, remains perhaps his most famous work. The series examines the moral and spiritual lives of children across the country with a poignancy that struck a deep chord in the culture (in 1973 Coles received the Pulitzer Prize for volumes two and three).

During those years Coles also worked as a speechwriter for Robert Kennedy, crafting the senator’s final speech before his assassination in 1968. But he by no means operated exclusively behind the scenes: his writings appeared in the pages of Harper’s, the New Yorker, and the Atlantic Monthly; he could be seen on The Dick Cavett Show; and his name and reputation were familiar to a wide swath of Americans.

Coles remained in the chair in the 1980s, when he maintained a prominent public profile. During that decade he received a MacArthur “genius grant,” appeared often as a guest on The PBS NewsHour (then known simply as The MacNeil/Lehrer NewsHour), and delivered an address at Harvard’s 350th anniversary.

And he has written in the chair over the past two decades, when, despite continuing to garner some of the nation’s highest civilian honors (the National Humanities Medal, among others) and launching and editing the short-lived but critically acclaimed national magazine Double Take, his public profile began to fade. (Coles received the National Humanities Medal from President George W. Bush in 2001, the same year Johnny Cash won the National Medal of Arts. When I spoke with him, Coles recalled an incredulous Cash asking him before the ceremony at which the president and first lady presented their medals, “What the hell are the two of us doin’ here?”)

It is precisely because of this relative decline in influence that the publication of Coles’s newest books, Handing One Another Along and Lives We Carry with Us, is so welcome. A distillation of his life’s essential themes and relationships, these works represent an opportunity to reintroduce one of America’s most significant public intellectuals of recent decades to the public.

Spry and trim, Coles looks much younger in person than his eighty-two years. His face is lined and the stubble underneath his left cheek is gray, but his full crest of hair still has healthy portions of its original black color, and his piercing eyes underneath his thick eyebrows retain plenty of vitality. The day I went to visit Coles at his Concord home, I had to wait for him to return from a spontaneous bike ride he took because he could not resist the glorious New England fall weather. Nevertheless, he knows that he is heading toward the end of his life, and he is starting to reflect on and share what he has learned from his many decades of engagement with the world.

At an initial glance, Coles’s two most recent works are very different. Edited by David Cooper, Lives We Carry with Us draws on Coles’s writing for a variety of books and journals to assemble thirteen profiles of lives of moral courage. Coles and Cooper, who worked together to choose the book’s selections, divide the work into four sections. The first is about teachers and mentors who had a major impact on Coles’s life, while the following sections cover artists, people of great moral conviction, and people at the beginning and end of the life cycle. The primary focus in the work is on the subjects’ lives, and, to a lesser degree, Coles’s relationships with them.

Handing One Another Along, on the other hand, is the book version of a series of lectures about literature and art that Coles gave in his legendary Literature of Social Reflection course at Harvard, which he taught for more than twenty-five years, and which he hoped would be an “enlivening heritage.” “I hope that the stories, in sum, told through words and pictures, studied through a lens of our own personal and social reflections, can prompt you to stop and consider the way in which you perceive and interact with the world around you, and how you choose to participate in this one life given to you, to us,” he writes in the introduction.

Handing One Another Along is also symphonic in nature, introducing ideas that are later developed and expanded. Readers meet the poet and doctor William Carlos Williams in the book’s opening section and then hear his words resonate throughout the work’s later parts.

Although the difference in form and format of these two works highlights Coles’s considerable versatility, together they constitute a single meditation on the people, themes, method of living, and understanding of life’s rhythms that have been most central to him. Many of the people in the picture gallery in Coles’s study appear in both books.

Far from making a single point in these books, Coles simultaneously advocates multiple specific messages—be kind, be open, be humble, be adventurous, be reflective, be engaged. Both works also contain a similar insistence on decency, an openness to learning from all different types of people and different forms of creative expression, and Coles’s guarding against excessive pride and self-promotion. Both works demonstrate an awareness of the possibilities and limitations of each intellectual discipline or form of communication. And both share a bedrock insistence on the importance of questing for truth, of living with soulful authenticity, and of striving for moral courage.

New England Roots

It all started in the lively Coles household in Boston. His parents read selections from their favorite works of literature aloud. The young Coles witnessed spirited discussions between his mother, Sandra, a Tolstoy devotee (in Handing One Another Along he describes his mother reading the Russian novelist on her deathbed), and his father, Philip, who told him, “Bobby, if you’ve got Middlemarch, you don’t need anything else.” “My father revered Eliot,” Coles told me.

His parents’ differences went beyond literary taste. His mother was from Sioux City, Iowa, an artist and art collector. On one of the walls in Coles’s home hang original works by Monet, Picasso, and Munch that she purchased. A stark presence is the art of Käthe Kollwitz, which portrays the desperate poverty that wracked post–World War I Germany. “I met the poor through Kollwitz,” Coles told me.

An exacting woman, Coles’s mother instilled in him an almost instinctive guarding against excessive self-glorification and pride. At times this tendency of his mother’s took extreme forms. He told me a story about bringing home a straight-A report card from Boston Latin School. His mother looked at it and said, “At moments like this, Bobby, we have to humble ourselves, and be grateful for the gifts the Lord has given us, but also be aware that there are flaws.”

“Your mother’s right, but she should give you a break,” responded his father, who was in the room and had been listening.

Philip Coles was an MIT-trained engineer of Jewish ancestry who, while an agnostic, derived spiritual pleasure and sustenance from the work of George Eliot and fellow literary rebel Thomas Hardy. Coles’s mother came from Episcopalian and Catholic stock. This mixture led Coles away from decisive belief in a single tradition or even in the existence of God. It also made him open to and sympathetic toward people from each of those religions, though he has never fully subscribed to any of them. “I have always felt between various worlds,” he said, a wry smile creasing his face. “Maybe it’s motivated me to understand the complexities of other people.”

The quest to live with and understand ambiguities through art and writing, the belief that apparent opposites needn’t be so, the emphasis on accomplishment and humility, the passion for creative expression, and the need to act with moral courage against poverty and for social justice—all were guiding themes in Coles’s childhood experiences and in his mature work.

Coles graduated from Boston Latin and enrolled in Harvard in 1946. Like his brother William, he aspired to a career teaching English and, perhaps, writing (William taught English literature for many years at the University of Michigan before retiring to Arizona).

Enter Dr. Williams

William Carlos Williams, the bard of New Jersey, the doctor who made house calls among ordinary citizens for a half-century, writing all the while, was to play a formative role in Coles’s life. Williams’s footprints are all over Lives We Carry with Us, which takes its title from a Williams injunction: “Their story, yours and mine—it’s what we all carry with us on this trip we take, and we owe it to each other to respect our stories and learn from them.” Coles’s incorporation and adaptation of these words is just one of the ways he honors his mentor. Williams is also a key figure in the first section of Lives We Carry with Us, in which Coles focuses on five people who exerted a life-altering influence on him.

Williams may stand atop that select list. Coles was introduced to his writing—then mostly ignored by the literary professoriate—by Perry Miller, Coles’s undergraduate advisor. Under Miller’s guidance, Coles wrote a paper about Williams, but Miller pushed his student to meet the literary master. Coles describes the scene in Handing One Another Along:

Professor Miller said to me, “Why don’t you send what you’ve written to Dr. Williams.” I said, “What?” He said, “That, what you wrote.” I said, “I can’t do that.” He said, “You don’t have the postage? No, you’re either shy or embarrassed.” I said nothing. He continued: “It might mean something to him.”

Coles sent the paper and received a reply from New Jersey about a week later:

I opened it up and there was a piece of paper from a doctor’s small, square prescription pad: William C. Williams, M.D., 9 Ridge Road, Rutherford, New Jersey. The prescription said, “Dear Mr. Coles, thank you very much for sending your thesis to me. It’s not bad for a Harvard student.” In a new paragraph, he added, “If you are ever in the neighborhood, please come see Flossie and me. Bill.”

A week later, Coles writes, he went to New York to be “in the neighborhood.” He met Williams and that was it. In Lives We Carry with Us, Coles describes Williams’s influence: “For me, to know Dr. Williams, to hear him talk about his writing and his life of medical work among the poor and working people of northern New Jersey, was to change direction markedly. Once headed for teaching, I set my sights for medical school.”

Application and admission to Columbia Medical School followed. While there, Coles met another mentor, this one courtesy of his mother: Dorothy Day, founder of the Catholic Worker movement.

Coles’s mother had carried on a correspondence with Day, and she shared the connection with her son in typically crisp fashion. During a lecture at Phillips Brooks House, home to a Harvard student organization dedicated to social justice, Coles explained that his mother responded to a description of his academic struggles by saying, “Maybe if you met Dorothy and the people she’s working with, you’d stop feeling so sorry for yourself.”

The student heeded his mother’s advice, and, through meeting Day, started to discover a way that he could be a doctor without neglecting his desire to work for social justice. Like Williams, Day receives a full chapter in Lives We Carry with Us, appears in Handing One Another Along, and has a portrait in the pantheon on the wall in Coles’s study.

In Lives We Carry with Us, Coles writes that Day helped him with his struggle to “connect a strong interest in moral philosophy to the work I was learning as a member of a particular profession.”

The connection took time. A lot of it. In fact, Coles explained during that same lecture that he spent so much time with Williams and Day that he was summoned to the dean’s office. Failing to concentrate more fully on his medical studies, they said, could jeopardize his completion of them.

Coles buckled down sufficiently to graduate, and, in part because of his encounters with Anna Freud (Sigmund’s daughter) and her work, the subject of another chapter in Lives We Carry with Us, he decided to specialize in child psychiatry.

Heading South

Williams and Miller both urged Coles not to stay in academia, but to get outside its gates and see the world. Recently married to the former Jane Hallowell, Coles was fortunate that his bride not only acquiesced, but supported the exploration. Their travels took them south to Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Mississippi, where Coles served as a military psychiatrist.

While in Mississippi, Coles traveled to New Orleans and witnessed what he calls in Handing One Another Along “an incident that transformed my life, my work, my perspective, the trajectory of my career.” The incident was a riot outside William Frantz Elementary School in New Orleans. Having grown up in the North, Coles had not had direct contact with segregation and the venomous hatred that could be stirred when its order was threatened. (The brutal response in South Boston to Judge Arthur Garrity’s court-ordered school desegregation of Boston’s public schools by busing took place close to fifteen years after the upheaval Coles witnessed.)

Coles describes the scene in Handing One Another Along:

Once I got within sight of the school, I saw, as well as heard, a large group of people, and all kinds of shouting and screaming. Then, almost suddenly, I saw some cars drive up, and if you have ever heard a noisy, foulmouthed mob suddenly fall silent, you will know the noise of silence, the presence of silence.

Men got out of the first car, all dressed alike in gray flannel suits, sunglasses, and carrying guns. A couple of men got out of the second car, but they didn’t have guns at the ready—rather, they were holding on to a little girl, who was about four feet tall and had on a white dress, white shoes, a white bow in her hair and was carrying a lunch pail.

After the silence came the noise again, the screams, the shouts, the threats: “We are going to kill you, you blankety-blankety-blank.”

The girl was six-year-old Ruby Bridges, a black girl who was integrating the previously all-white school. The protestors’ rage shocked the sheltered Coles, who had slowly begun “to figure out that this had to do with race,” and sparked in him the curiosity to learn more and a determination to find out what was happening. After meeting with NAACP Legal Defense Fund chief Thurgood Marshall, Coles gained permission to meet and work with Bridges.

A chapter in each of the two books is devoted to his relationship with Bridges. In Handing One Another Along, Coles says that he asked what she was doing when she moved her lips each morning. She was praying, the girl told him. Coles then asked,

“Who are you praying for?” She replied, “I was praying for the people in the street.” I was surprised and unwilling to drop the matter. I said, “Why would you want to pray for those people in the street?” She looked at me and answered, “Well, don’t you think they need praying for? I always say the same thing. I always say, ‘Please God, try to forgive these people because they don’t know what they are doing.’ ”

The hatred he witnessed in the South confused Coles, and made him feel lonely and adrift. A partial antidote came in the form of Walker Percy’s novel The Moviegoer. Coles writes in Lives We Carry with Us that he had read Percy’s essays for years, adding that when The Moviegoer came out in 1961, he read it so many times he lost count. The book “gave hope to me, helped me feel stronger at a critical time, when I was somewhat lost, confused, vulnerable, and, it seemed, drifting badly.”

The exchange with Bridges and the reliance on Percy’s work illustrate the spiritual and religious understanding that took shape during Coles’s childhood and which he ultimately made his own. Coles believes we live in a moral universe in which right and wrong do exist and matter. Striving for moral courage is desirable and honorable, if not imperative. Like his father, Coles drew strength from literature rather than organized religion or personal belief.

While he is deeply respectful of others’ faith in God, Coles himself does not have that same certainty. “I just don’t know,” he said, after I asked him about the topic for the third time in his study. “I’m an agnostic.”

Bolstered by Percy’s work and by his relationship with Williams, Coles stayed with his family in the South for more than a decade, becoming heavily involved in the burgeoning civil rights struggle that eventually toppled legal segregation.

It was dangerous work.

Coles told me that he was in the same car as civil rights workers James Chaney, Michael Schwerner, and Andrew Goodman in Mississippi the evening of Sunday, June 21, 1964. The men were going to investigate the burning of Mount Zion Union Methodist Church, fifty miles away in Neshoba County.

Coles was planning to ride with the three men, but the legendary organizer Bob Moses, who was staying to attend a meeting in the area, intervened.

“Bob Moses came over and put his hand on my shoulder and he said, ‘You’re a white American Harvard doctor. They’ll listen to you, they won’t listen to me.’”

Coles got out of the car and went with Moses.

Schwerner, Chaney, and Goodman disappeared that night. The next day their burned-out station wagon was found in the Bogue Chitto swamp. The bodies of the three civil rights workers were found forty-four days later, buried fifteen feet in an earthen dam.

Philip Coles was furious at his son for staying in such perilous conditions, especially with his wife pregnant with their first child, but Coles and Jane did not leave for several more years. Their next stop was a return to Cambridge and his alma mater, where the psychologist Erik Erikson, yet another towering figure in both books, had invited him to teach.

Coles’s years in the South did more than expand his racial horizons, lay the groundwork for the monumental Children of Crisis, and give him a visceral awareness of life’s fragility. It also inculcated in Coles a deep desire to travel to new places and learn what he could from children’s and adults’ struggles to act bravely in an often harsh and unfair world. He, his wife, and his three sons ventured to Alaska, where he worked with native people, to apartheid-era South Africa, and to the former Rhodesia, among other places.

Out in the World

The Coles family also traveled to the Southwest to work with migrant workers, during which time Coles befriended the legendary farmworker organizer César Chávez. Coles also met an elderly Mexican couple in New Mexico who had been married for more than sixty years. He writes about the pair in “Una Anciana,” a chapter in Lives We Carry With Us and his favorite piece of writing ever. The book’s longest chapter, “Una Anciana” is the only piece in the book to appear in its original version.

Whereas other chapters in Lives We Carry with Us feature more standard profile elements—the subjects’ backgrounds, formative influences, and biographical milestones—“Una Anciana” transports the reader into the couple’s home and gives the woman and her husband much more space to speak for themselves.

“Una Anciana” ends with the husband’s tribute to the woman with whom he has shared his life:

She is not just an old woman, you know. She wears old age like a bunch of fresh-cut flowers. She is old, advanced in years, vieja, but in Spanish we have another word for her, a word which tells you that she has grown with all those years. I think that is something one ought hope for and pray for and work for all during life: to grow, to become not only older but a bigger person. She is old, all right, vieja, but I will dare say this in front of her—she is una anciana; with that I declare my respect and have to hurry back to the barn.

The praise could easily have been Coles’s words about his own wife, who died in 1993. The excerpt is just one of many passages throughout Lives We Carry with Us and Handing One Another Along in which Coles, although writing about other people, is speaking about himself. In Lives We Carry with Us, for instance, he describes Erik Erikson’s search for human understanding as “an unashamedly moral one”—a characterization that could just as easily apply to Coles’s own quest. When he writes in Handing One Another Along that through the people we meet in William Carlos Williams’s work and the “questions that he brings up for us about them, we learn of a nation, its people,” we hear echoes of Coles’s own intention.

There is a certain irony in this, since Coles scrupulously avoids writing positively about himself in both works. When he does appear, he is usually being lovingly corrected by his wife, being educated by the people he meets, or, when he uses psychological terminology, cutting himself down for doing so, often with parenthetical phrases. In one particularly striking example of the latter, he uses three sets of parentheses in the same paragraph! It’s a deliberate technique, he told me, to avoid using his authority as a psychologist and doctor to intimidate others. There is also his adherence to his mother’s childhood injunction against what George Eliot called “unreflecting egoism.”

These tactics notwithstanding, throughout both books Coles sends clear messages about his understanding of life: living incrementally and by the moment, learning as you go, and never acting with utter certainty. Books and literature and art can be guides for action and sources of strength, but one must live life on the ground.

A Controversy

Coles has received multiple honors for his work and methods, ranging from a MacArthur “genius grant” in 1981 to the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation’s top honor for civilians, in 1998. But the acclaim has not been unanimous, as Coles and his work have come under criticism on a number of grounds. Some have noted that the statements his subjects make are precisely those that a liberal Northern psychiatrist would want to hear. Others have taken direct aim at Coles’s credibility and veracity. In a 2003 New Republic review of his book about Bruce Springsteen (the subject of one of the profiles in Lives We Carry with Us), author David Hajdu wrote the following:

The fact that William Carlos Williams and Walker Percy had such extensive conversations with Robert Coles on the subjects of the New Jersey pop singers Frank Sinatra and Bruce Springsteen, and that those discussions yielded insights so parallel and neatly suited to Coles’s own take on Springsteen is incredible—utterly incredible. I was not there to overhear them, of course, and it is impossible to check with Williams and Percy, or with the late Erikson and Shawn, whom Coles’s other deceased sources quote in his book’s opening sections. But I did ask Will Percy about the comments on Springsteen that Coles attributes to his uncle, and he called them “outrageous.” Walker Percy “definitely didn’t talk like that,” according to his nephew.

Coles, who had a book dedicated to him by Percy, has never commented publicly on the nephew’s allegation. He declined to break his silence for this article other than to say that his complete correspondence with Percy and Springsteen is at Michigan State.

On the other hand, he did plead guilty to a criticism, leveled in the mid-1980s by Northwestern professor and social commentator Joseph Epstein, that he is too easy on others’ books when he reviews them. “Generosity, like humility, can be carried too far,” Epstein wrote in Plausible Prejudices. “Doris Grumbach, Robert Coles, and Robert Towers are three people who review too generously. Their liking a book carries no weight—they like so many.”

“I have never been able to write negative, nasty reviews,” Coles told me, explaining that he instead declines invitations to review books about which he does not have much positive to say. “[Joseph Epstein] is onto something.”

Grappling with Life’s Mysteries

When it comes to his books, Coles writes with urgency because he knows that his remaining days are limited. He writes poignantly in Lives We Carry with Us that a failing Dorothy Day tried, but was unable, to “write what mattered most” to her. In his latest work, Coles does exactly that type of taking stock. In “Una Anciana,” when Domingo the husband says, “These days one never knows when the end will come. I know our time is soon up. But when I look at that mother horse and her child in the barn, or at my children and their children, I feel lucky to have been permitted for a while to be part of all this life here on earth,” one feels Coles’s awareness of his own mortality.

Coles develops this theme of gratitude more explicitly in Handing One Another Along, with writing from and about authors who faced their deaths with serenity and grace. In a lecture early in that book, he includes Raymond Carver’s poem “Gravy,” which, according to Coles, describes in many ways “his [Carver’s] last decade, a decade of blessedness and love that became possible for him” when Carver quit drinking and began his relationship with writer Tess Gallagher in 1978:

No other word will do. For that’s what it was. Gravy.
Gravy, these past ten years.
Alive, sober, working, loving, and
being loved by a good woman. Eleven years
ago he was told he had six months to live
at the rate he was going. And he was going
nowhere but down. So he changed his ways
somehow. He quit drinking! And the rest?
After that, it was all gravy, every minute
of it, up to and including when he was told about,
well, some things that were breaking down and
building up inside his head. “Don’t weep for me,”
he said to his friends. “I’m a lucky man.
I’ve had ten years longer than I or anyone
expected. Pure Gravy. And don’t forget it.”

Building on the theme of gratitude touched on by Domingo and Carver, the final chapter of Handing One Another Along contains Jane Kenyon’s poem “Otherwise,” which she wrote shortly before she died of leukemia at age forty-eight:

I got out of bed
on two strong legs.
It might have been
otherwise. I ate
cereal, sweet
milk, ripe, flawless
peach. It might
have been otherwise.
I took the dog uphill
to the birch wood.
All morning I did
the work I love.

At noon I lay down
with my mate. It might
have been otherwise.
We ate dinner together
at a table with silver
candlesticks. It might
have been otherwise.
I slept in a bed
in a room with paintings
on the walls, and
planned another day
just like this day.
But one day, I know,
it will be otherwise.

“How does one live with such knowledge?” Coles asks. “How to pick up each day with enthusiasm and insistence and pride and yet know, remember what that poem tells us?”

Coles’s answer, it seems, lies in the words of a letter Henry James wrote to his nephew, William, that Coles includes in the final chapter of Handing One Another Along, and in the values by which Coles has oriented his personal and professional life: Be kind. Be brave. Be open. Be respectful. Be hard working. Be humble. Be honest. Be true.


It might be reasonable to expect that, having shared his life’s wisdom, Coles has no plans for more books. But that is not the case. Next on the docket: a return to the beginning of his career in medicine, when he cared for children with polio and other fatal conditions (Handing One Another Along contains a reference to the same period in Coles’s life). During the October lecture at Phillips Brooks House, he recounted how one of the children told him, “You look tired, Dr. Coles.” The suffering child’s compassionate gesture lives within the psychiatrist still and is prodding him to explore that territory.

Before that, though, there are bike rides to take, letters to write, and family members to visit. He said he considers his relationship with his wife and family his greatest accomplishment.

But when he has rested and readied himself, Robert Coles will sit back in his trusty chair. He will take out another pad of yellow lined paper. And, in the shadows of the people who have meant most to him and inspired these two books, he will begin to carry out the next, and what we hope is not the final, project of his extraordinarily rich, varied, and productive life.


Mayor’s Emanuel’s Love for JRW’s Team, Not Neighborhoods

Rahm Emanuel has repeatedly expresse his admiration for the Jackie Robinson West Little League team.

Rahm Emanuel has repeatedly expressed his admiration for the Jackie Robinson West Little League team.

Like Chicagoans across the city, Rahm Emanuel loves the plucky and gritty youngsters from the Jackie Robinson West Little League team.

He tweeted repeatedly about them.

The city hosted a watch party on the Far South Side during which he and the hundreds of others there hung on every pitch.

And, on Wednesday, he’s giving them a parade to celebrate their historic that ended with their being America’s champions.

In a statement about the parade, Emanuel said the following:

“The excitement surrounding these remarkable young people has been palpable in every neighborhood of Chicago, and their spirit, positive attitude and success on the field illustrate why they are the pride of the City. Win or lose, these 13 boys are their coaches are the true champions of Chicago and we look forward to welcoming them home with the fanfare they deserve on Wednesday.”

During their run, commentators across the country noted that the team, which is composed entirely of African-American players, hails from the city’s South and Southwest Sides.

The players live in communities like Auburn Gresham, Englewood, Morgan Park, Chatham and Washington Heights.

Many of these neighborhoods have not received the same love from Emanuel as he has heaped on the young players whose heart, skill and tenacity he has rightly praised.

Take Englewood.

I pulled seven years worth of homicide data compiled meticulously by friend and former colleague Tracy Swartz of RedEye to see how it and the city’s other communities had fared during Emanuel’s 39 months as mayor as compared with the amount of time during his predecessor Richard M. Daley’s tenure.

Not so well, as it turned out.

The neighborhood has had 79 murders under Emanuel, as compared with 58 during Daley’s final 39 months.

That’s the second-highest total in the city and a 36 percent increase under our current leader.

In Washington Heights, murders have gone up from 21 under to Daley to 25 under Emanuel, a 16 percent jump.

By contrast, the total number of murders throughout Chicago was nearly identical under Emanuel and Daley.

That means that those neighborhoods have fared worse under the JRW-loving Emanuel than Chicago’s longest-serving mayor.

After the parade, the young players from the team, like young people throughout the city, will need to go back to school.

Of course, there are fewer of them in their communities.

That’s because the mayor closed 49 schools in 2012 in the largest schools closing in American history. Some of the zip codes where the youngsters live were among the hardest hit by both the actual shuttering of the school and the build up to that final decision.

The latter is an important point.

I was working for Hoy Chicago in the spring of 2012, the time when the school board, which serves under Emanuel, was deciding the schools’ fates.

I visited parents from the William Penn Elementary School in the North Lawndale neighborhood.

The strain of the potential closure on the parents, educators and students was evident. In the end, Penn was spared, but the emotional toll it had taken was real.

In a couple of years, when they are old enough, the players from Jackie Robinson West can apply to go to high school at the Barack Obama College Preparatory High School.

The school is likely to be named after our forty-fourth president, who has deep ties to the city’s South Side.

Of course, if they are able to gain admission, something that’s happened less and less for black and Latino students during Emanuel’s tenure, they will have to travel to the North Side.

That’s because Emanuel has proposed that the new school be located near the area left vacant since the Cabrini-Green housing development was closed during Daley’s time as mayor.

It’s actions like these and others have caused many in the very neighborhoods that helped propel Emanuel to victory in 2011 to question how much he cares about them and the their communities.

I asked Emanuel about this last year during a 10-minute interview he granted Hoy Chicago.

As you can see, he responded by laughing and by talking about his actions during the teachers’ strike that shot Chicago Teachers Union head Karen Lewis to national prominence.

“I know what we have to do,” he said.

Others are not so sure.

Chicago Tribune columnist John Kass wrote recently about the “anyone but Rahm” vibe that is building in Chicago, and Lewis has all but declared her intention to take on the incumbent.

If it materializes, the contest will be an interesting one.

Lewis and Emanuel’s distaste for each other, at least in the past, has been well-chronicled.

The mayor once swore at Lewis, while she has called him a liar and a bully.

Also interesting to watch will be whether Emanuel treats his potential opponent the same way during his re-election campaign as he has many of the neighborhoods that have produced the young baseball players who stole the nation’s heart and who the mayor so openly admires.

In Champaign, Similarities and a Potential Way Forward for Ferguson

Photo courtesy of velo_city

A protester holds up a sign in Ferguson, Missouri. Photo courtesy of velo_city

Virtually unknown a little more than a week ago, Ferguson, Missouri has, in part through social media’s ability to bring light to many of the world’s dark corners, come to dominate national, and even global, attention in  the days since police officer Darren Wilson ended Michael Brown’s life by shooting him six times.

As difficult as it may be to envision now, amidst the tear gas, rubber bullets, and arresting of protesters young and old, eventually order will return to the suburban St. Louis community.

And, when that time comes, Ferguson residents could look at the actions of members of Champaign’s black community in thinking about how to enhance their power going forward.

At first glance, the connection between the city in open revolt where the National Guard has been summoned and the site of Illinois’ flagship state university seems tenuous at best.

But a deeper look reveals that the two cities share some important and distressing similarities.

Both erupted in protest after the death of an unarmed African-American teenager at the hands of a white policeman.

In Champaign, it was 15-year-old Kiwane Carrington who died after being shot in broad daylight on a Friday afternoon in October 2009.

Carrington’s death sparked a protest movement that led in early 2012 to the retirement under duress of then-Police Chief R.T. Finney.

And both cities have black communities that simmered for years about its treatment by the majority-white police force sworn to protect it before taking direct action after one of their youth was killed.

The disparate treatment is visible in numbers.

In a New York Times article, Jeff Smith, a former state senator from St. Louis and a professor at the New School, cited a recent Missouri report that found that African-Americans were about 67 percent of Ferguson residents, but 93 percent of traffic stops by police.

This pattern occurred despite the fact that white people were more likely than black people to have contraband found on them, Smith wrote.

Champaign had even greater disparities.

Black people in Champaign were 16 percent of the population in 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, but accounted for at least 40 percent of all arrestees, according to an analysis we did of arrest data in 2012 when I worked at Hoy Chicago.

For some crimes, it was even higher.

Black people accounted for close to 90 percent of jaywalking arrests in Champaign as well as in neighboring Urbana, we found.  (One of the most surreal developments that has taken place since Brown’s death was Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson’s revelation that Wilson initially stopped the teenager for jaywalking.)

These numbers tell a potent story; the words of the residents speak even louder.

In John Oliver’s biting Last Week Tonight, Robert X, a young Ferguson resident talked about the daily, lower-level harassment he and other black people have endured from the police before Brown’s shooting. Check about 2:17 for his comments.

For his part, longtime Champaign resident Charles McClendon described the negative consequences of police aggression, discriminatory practices and profiling on community-police relations. See his statement at the 2:25 mark.

Yet members of the black community fought back not only through the gritty protests being waged by many resilient people in Ferguson, but through a way that has the potential to bring about more enduring change: they voted.

Whereas turnout in black neighborhoods in Champaign historically had been low, leaders organized a stealth voter turnout campaign that some attributed as playing a critical role in underdog independent candidate Don Gerard defeating three-time incumbent and “birther” Jerry Schweighart by a margin of several hundred votes.

One of Gerard’s first major appointments was to name Anthony Cobb, a black Champaign native, to head the police department.

Many members of the black community expressed their confidence in Cobb’s ability to improve community-police relationships.

Champaign-area activists maintained that they needed to stay active after Cobb’s appointment, and an analysis of arrests data appeared to confirm their point. Although the total number of arrests dropped during the first six months of Cobb’s tenure, the percentage of black people arrested remained essentially unchanged.

Activist Martell Miller said Monday that the community has grown disillusioned with Gerard in the years since his victory, but gave Cobb high marks for communication.

As Oliver and others have noted, the repeated communication gaffes from various levels of law enforcement and politicians have been the proverbial gasoline on the fire caused by Brown’s killing, with the latest being the dramatic understatement of the number of arrests Monday night.

It would be both naive and facile to say that better information sharing could have avoided the outrage that has been sparked and that continues to rage on Ferguson’s troubled streets.

It’s also important to be clear both about the limitations of the comparison and the extensive amount of multi-layered change needed in both communities.

Still, when the turbulence ultimately subsides, Ferguson residents can continue to strategize about the longer-term steps they and others can take to bring about the deep changes that are sorely needed to end the mistreatment and injustice they have endured for so long.

The Hidden Concerns Behind Northstar’s Firing

Northstar Lottery Group, the company Gov. Pat Quinn chose in 2010 to be the first private entity in the country to administer daily Lottery operations, has been fired.

Local media have chronicled the company’s failure to meet project revenue targets each of the past three years. (In his article about the events that led up to the “divorce”, Crain’s Chicago Business reporter Greg Hinz wrote that “the proverbial final straw may have come last spring, when reports came out that the firm was running $716 million short of its revenue target nine months into fiscal 2014.”)

But all the coverage of Northstar’s underperformance and of the increasingly insistent calls by Rep. Jack Franks, D-Marengo, to sever ties with the company have missed two aspects of the privatization process that raises unsettling questions about whether the contract should have been awarded at all.

Natalie Craig, managing editor of the Columbia Chronicle, caught the first one.

In an article posted shortly after the news broke about Northstar’s dismissal, Craig broke the news that that the Lottery Control Board, an independent advisory group, violated Illinois Lottery law each year from 2009 to 2012 by failing to hold the legally required amount of meetings.

(Full disclosure: Natalie is a student in the investigative reporting class I’ll be team-teaching this fall. Along with colleagues, I helped edit the piece.)

For those who are keeping score, that time span covers the years during the privatization process as well as the first 15 months of Northstar’s administration-a period highlighted in the following YouTube video featuring Chicago Bulls small forward Jimmy Butler.

Craig explains that the board is an advisory body composed of five members which advises the Lottery superintendent and the director of the Department of Revenue on lottery operations. It’s also responsible for advertising and promoting the Lottery.

It’s required by law to meet four times per year.

A Chronicle analysis of 10 years of board minutes revealed that it met or exceeded the number of meetings every year from 2004 to 2008.

In 2008 the group discussed the issue of privatization during one of its six meetings.

Board member Jonathan Stein said privatization would provide a short-term solution for the state’s financial problems, but would hurt the state’s financial return in 10 years, Craig wrote.
Because of this, Stein opposed the state’s moving toward privatization.

Those were the last recorded words about privatization by a body that’s designed to be the people’s voice.

In 2009, the board met three times, and only once with a quorum.

In 2010, it met just one time, early in the year, and then not again until late 2012.

“As a result, citizens did not have a critical form of legally required input on one of the most consequential decisions in lottery history,” Craig wrote.

Quinn’s office declined to respond to numerous calls from Craig about the impact of this legal violation.

Attorney General Lisa Madigan’s office was similarly silent about the consequences of the board’s failure.

But John Kindt, an emeritus professor emeritus of business administration at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, was far more forthcoming.

“The situation doesn’t pass the smell test,” he told Craig.

Another little-discussed component of the privatization process also had a questionable odor: the actions of Northstar’s parent companies GTech and Scientific Games.

The proverbial mother and father of the outfit Quinn hired and then fired are each behemoths in the global lottery industry in their own.

The companies are two of four Platinum sponsors of the World Lottery Association, a trade group that has helped boost Lottery sales across the planet from $227 billion to $284 billion in the past five years, according to the World Lottery Almanac.

In 2007, Bruce Golding of the Journal News detailed GTech’s long history of scandal around the globe around the globe.

“Bribery allegations led a co-founder to quit his job as chairman. Its lobbyists have run afoul of the law in several states, including New York,” Golding wrote. “Former government officials have received lucrative consulting contracts. And in summer 2006, an investigation in Texas found that the company, GTECH Holdings Corp., doled out tens of millions of dollars – some of which went to foreign lottery officials – to expand its business in South America, Europe and the Caribbean.”

In a similar vein, Scientific Games was linked to one of North Carolina’s biggest political scandals, involving payments to then-Lottery Commissioner Kevin Geddings.

The bigger point is that even if the companies had sterling records, a strong argument could be made that their corporate child should not receive a dime of public money.

That’s because the two companies and former arch-rivals, which control the vast majority of the instant ticket market in the United States, bonded together to bid for the contract Quinn ultimately awarded to Northstar.

In another industry, this would would be like Apple and Microsoft forming a smaller company and receiving millions and millions of public dollars.

Like Kindt said about the Lottery Control Board, it doesn’t smell right.

At all.

Hinz quoted Quinn spokesman Grant Klinzman as saying the state is finalizing a path to move on, improve profits and increase funding for education and economic development across the state.

But answering the troubling questions raised by Craig’s revelations about the Lottery Control Board and the awarding of a major public contract to the corporate child of two lottery titans should be a prerequisite before that forward movement occurs.

RIP, Jane Ganet-Sigel

This is the season of life in which we find ourselves.

The children largely grown and out of the house, not yet fully independent but well on their way.

Many, like Aidan, are legal adults who have started to shed the oppositional position in which everything we say as parents is wrong and subject to eye rolling and scornful looks.

Whereas several years ago we battled over curfews and cars, now we talk about care packages sent and received, courses taken and internships sought.

It’s calmer, less emotionally taxing and grounded in a feeling of only slightly mixed gratitude.

Our parents, on the other hand, are in the time that Dylan Thomas called “the dying of the light.”

Some, like my mother-in-law Helen said about Marty in his final days, rage against the inevitable end.

Others are more accepting.

There is no right way to go.

But fading and passing they are.

Yesterday it came to Jane Ganet-Sigel, mother of dear friend Eddie Ganet.

Jane lived a long, full, joyful and generative life.

She founded the Dance/Movement Therapy program at Columbia College, where I have just begun to teach.

A loving mother and grandmother and partner to the indomitable Mel, a sturdy nonagenerian from the West Side with a firm handshake and a grey pony tail.

Jane fought long and hard against the various ailments she suffered.

Her mind never stopped working, even if the strokes she sustained made it harder to express herself.

Dunreith and I would see Jane and Mel at Cheryl and Eddie’s house on holidays like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

We’d sit in the dining room, feasting on brisket or whatever other treasures Cheryl had made, chatting about this and that, thankful to be part of the circle of birth and adopted family.

Even as her ability to speak waned, Jane always transmitted pure love with her soulful dark eyes.

Dunreith chided me the last time we saw her for knocking another guest out of the way before saying goodbye to Jane.

My wife was right, but I just wanted to show my respect and caring for this remarkable woman.

On Saturday Jane said goodbye to her son, who had given her unfailing love and care as she declined.

See you soon, Eddie said.

Maybe not, Jane answered, slyly.

The Great Lioness has taken her last breath, Eddie wrote on Facebook.

It appears that she knew.

As we advance to a certain stage in our lives, there are fewer and fewer people who treat us as their children.

For us, the generation of grandparents is largely gone.

Our parents are going.

Being around someone who related to me that way, as Jane did, always filled me with warmth and made me feel safe.

I called Mom last night while we were making dinner.

She and Jane had met one Rosh Hashanah and enjoyed each other’s company a lot.

Mom had just spoken the day before about how she and her peers are nearing death, thinking about their lives and what has mattered to them.

You are in the stage of living from your dreams and seeing what comes from that, she told me.

It was a little late last night when I called, and Mom was up and alert.

She told me about the writing she’s doing.

I shared the news about Jane and about what she had said to Eddie.

People choose the time they’re going to die, Mom said. Often doctors in hospice don’t understand that, but the pull to life becomes less and less.

I’m glad you’re still here, I told Mom.

Appreciative of Jane for all that she gave us, we are aware that we are inching into the space our grandparents and parents inhabited before us, the place of elders who have largely done what they are going to do in life and who are passing on their wisdom and ceaseless love to those who come after us.

She and they will guide us as we move, slowly but inexorably, into this new stage.

Thank you.

On Receiving and Giving, Minute by Minute

Addy Reisler Yanow, left, pictured with Judge James Moran, gave to family and friends throughout her 93 years of life.  Photo courtesy of Jennifer Moran.

Adelaide Reisler Yanow, left, pictured with Judge James Moran, gave to family and friends throughout her 93 years of life. Photo courtesy of Jennifer Moran.

I’ve written a lot the past few years about the abundance of gifts I have been privileged to receive.

Gifts large and small that arrive in ordinary and extraordinary moments.

A loving wife and a son who has grown into a man I am proud to know.

Good health.

Active parents whose desires to live a meaningful life still beats strong.

Close relations with my brothers, sister-in-law and nephew on our side of the family, and love for all of the folks on Dunreith’s side.

Work that is a source of passion and meaning, and that regularly provides opportunities for collaboration with my brother.

Financial stability.

A circle of friends.

A clearer sense of how I want to live during my time on the planet.

Extraordinary opportunities for travel.

I could go on and on, and you get the idea.

More recently, though, I’ve been reflecting on what I can give.

I’m not say this is the first time I’ve ever thought of how to help people.

Rather it’s a deepening understanding of the potential all of us have, at every moment, to contribute to others, to help bring some measure of healing or insight or strength to those with whom we are fortunate enough to spend our days.

Some opportunities are more clear than others.

Dunreith and I attended a memorial service on Monday for Adelaide Reisler Yanow, mother of our friend Wendy Yanow, who died last week at age 93. (Addie had only retired four years from her position at the federal court before her passing, and, as the cantor officiating the ceremony noticed, held as a point of pride that she had been offered another position.)

I didn’t see Addie a lot, but spent enough time around her to appreciate her indomitable spirit, her fierce and loving generosity, and her simple encouragement that has stayed with me.

Dunreith, Aidan and I moved to Evanston from Easthampton so that I could pursue my writing passion.

In 2003, I had my first byline in the Chicago Tribune’s Perspectives section.

It was a piece offering an assessment of Dr. King’s 1966 campaign in Chicago to end slum housing conditions.

The effort, King’s first in a northern city, had widely, if not unanimously, been labeled a failure.

I challenged that viewpoint and suggested that there were gains that had been achieved, even if the central objective had not been accomplished.

Addie complimented me on the article, her eyes glowing as she spoke.

It was a time when I was a bit like a foal struggling to find my writing legs.

Her words, and the knowledge that this straight-talking, lifelong Chicagoan would let me know if she had thought otherwise, bolstered me and gave me strength.

This action was typical, we heard over and over again during the service.

Addie’s grandson Max Antman, a family friend whose mother had been close with Addy for 70 years, and a former law clerk of Judge Moran, the man with whom she worked for the last 28 years of her career, all rose to paint a consistent portrait of a fun-loving, compassionate, funny, strict and incessantly giving woman who lived, as Max said, a magnificent life.

Death is a natural and inevitable partner to life, so it’s hard not to feel gratitude for a woman who was such a marvelous model and who created so many warm memories.

Those feelings were there, to be sure.

But still, no matter when it comes, the loss of a parent cuts deep.

I’ve seen this during the past four years, as Dunreith has come to terms with the death first of her father Marty in 2010, and then her mother Helen about 18 months later.

Wendy and her sisters were feeling that pain.

Dunreith and I dressed up, drove to Weinstein Funeral Home in Wilmette, joined the receiving line, hugged and shook hands and expressed condolences that we knew could not eliminate the pain.

But we also knew that our presence was a balm.

In this moment the possibility to give was readily apparent.

In others, it’s less so.

But that doesn’t make its importance any less.

Doing so effectively comes from listening and feeling where another person is, thinking about what they are dealing with in their lives, and offering what we can to help.

In some cases the gift can be a touch on the arm, an appreciative laugh, an understanding smile.

At other times, it’s words of witness and affirmation.

I’m more grateful than ever for all that I have received.

But I’m as grateful for the moment by moment opportunities to give, too.