My thoughts tonight are with Gary Adelman, my mother’s cousin who really has been like an uncle to me.
He’s in his mid-70s, but, in many ways, never should have lived this long.
After contracting a case of childhood diabetes, he went blind by the time he was 25. This means that the last images he saw were in the late 50s and early 60s.
At age 44, his mother Estelle gave him a kidney-he called it “a gift of life twice given”-that was supposed to last for five years at most.
It lasted 22.
Phyllis, his devoted wife, happened to be a match with Gary and donated one of her kidneys to him seven or eight years ago.
Some people would have led this and the other difficulties caused by diabetes defeat them, but not Gary.
He finished his doctoral studies in English at Columbia University and began a more than 40-year career as a professor at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
I’ve had the privilege of walking next to him many times, and can say first hand that for him many of the characters in his beloved Dostoyevsky, Conrad, or Beckett are at least as alive to him as the people walking next to him.
Conversation with Gary is a combination contact sport and Socratic dialogue. You best come prepared, too, because with his Brooklyn roots and love of verbal combat, he’ll root out any inconsistency or equivocation in your positions or ideas.
Possessing a near photographic memory, he’s also become more and more productive as a scholar as technology has made it much easier for him to write than before computers existed.
Gary’s always been a loving critic and fierce supporter of my projects and life path, and, for that and the connection to the Adelman side of the family, I’m enormously grateful.
Now, though, he’s ailing and possibly heading toward the end of his life.
We spoke yesterday, and, while he wanted me to give him a full, rather than summary report of Mike and Annie’s wedding he wanted so desperately to attend, he was too tired at that moment to hear it, but not so exhausted that he could not summon Don Quixote’s words:
The next time we speak
Make haste: tell me all, and let not
an atom be left behind in the ink-bottle.
We talked again this morning, and his voice was stronger.
“My spirits are good,” he told me this morning after comparing himself to early twentieth century Poland, surrounded by hostile empires but still proudly flying its flag high.
I hope they stay that way.
It’s been a full season of life and death for us these days and months.
In less than an hour Dunreith and I will leave to pick up Aidan, who is returning home for fall break after his first half-semester in college.
As we drive down Lake Shore Drive, I’m sure my thoughts at some point will drift to my valiant and much-loved Gary, and to the hope, perhaps fanciful, that we will again soon be able to talk as we have so that no atom remains in the ink bottle.