We’ve just come back from dropping Aidan in New Orleans for his sophomore year and are keeping a very close watch on the Crescent City as Isaac does its damage on the anniversary of the biblical deluge we called Katrina.
It was a memorable journey not only because it was the third time we had done so, but because it provided so many reminders of how we are intersecting with all different stages of the life cycle.
We talked with a friend whose wife had just had a baby, his voice crackling with joy as he described ushering his first son into the world.
I spoke with my brother Mike, whose wife Annie’s due date is just a month away. His son’s imminent arrival has prompted Mike to move his beloved wine collection from the room the young man will inhabit to the garage.
We stayed with dear friends Michele and Glenn Phillips, each of whom turned 50 within the last month or so (Glenn’s birthday is today, in fact.). They shared with us that their mother and father just hit 80 and 90 years, respectively. Both are going strong.
On the other hand, we heard about a woman our age in the throes of the final stages of cancer. This mother of an adolescent girl has just been given months to live, and told her daughter that news this past weekend.
We also learned about another friend who received frightening and threatening health news.
These kind of moments happened less often and meant a lot less when I was younger, but now are continual reminders both of our progression through life, its inevitable end and the impossibility of knowing how much time we have.
We do know we always have the present moment.
That awareness heightens my appreciation of the gifts I am privileged to receive and sharpens my perspective both about my place in the generation and what matters.
To borrow/lift from E.M. Forster, it’s to connect.
But it’s not just that.
I remember vividly hearing the often cantankerous Larry Langer, probably the preeminent scholar on Holocaust testimony, talk about the students he taught at Emerson.
“When I tell them to read Shakespeare, they say, ‘We already did that,'” the ever blunt and fiery Langer said. “That’s like me saying, ‘I made love to my wife once!'”
As it turned out, Sandy Langer was in the room.
“We’ve been married 55 years!” Langer exclaimed as his wife nodded in demure yet proud affirmation.
Langer’s point was that some of the deepest connection comes through reconnection, through weaving another strand of relationship history into the fabric of shared experience.
My friend Hisao Kushi’s father Michio, the modern father of American macrobiotics, wrote in a number of books about the spiral being an essential shape in nature.
Raised in a linear conception of life, I didn’t see understand what he was talking about even as I saw the illustrations of nautilus shells, spiral staircases, a football pass and hurricanes that exist throughout the made and natural worlds.
Over time, though, I’ve come to understand the wisdom of what he was describing.
I thought of Mr. Kushi and the power of reconnection after returning home from our trip to New Orleans.
Our 25th Stanford reunion is coming up at just about the time Mike and Annie’s baby is due.
In preparation for the event, each of us in the class received a class book filled with pages of words and photos from whoever wanted to participate.
Chris McGlothlin was one of them.
I had always admired the blond boy from Michigan who played basketball in the post with a fierce intensity that I later learned revealed a core aspect of his character.
Soft-spoken, Chris didn’t say much.
But he sure did a lot.
He earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in Engineering at Stanford in just 11 quarters, graduating one quarter early so that he could travel in Asia (He had landed in China between the summer of freshman and sophomore year without speaking a world of the language and ended two months later being able to hold his own.).
Although he hailed from Michigan, Chris was a passionate supporter of Bobby Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers.
He scheduled his trip for early April 1987, leaving just enough time to ensure that if Indiana and Steve Alford made it to the finals, he could watch them.
I don’t know if you remember Keith Smart taking over down the stretch against a Syracuse team that featured future pros Derrick Coleman, Sherman Douglas and Rony Seikaly, but I do.
Chris and I haven’t spoken since, not because of any tension, but simply because we had gone different ways.
I had called once or maybe twice over the years, but we had not succeeded in connecting.
I read his page, saw that he’s married with three kids, considering early retirement and has written books and done a couple of indie films (Of course.).
I gave him a call and left a message.
He returned the call and left a voice mail about working in Chicago three or four days a week during the next couple of months.
We’ve not seen each other yet, but hearing the enthusiasm in his voice and knowing that he remembered me meant a lot.
Before the conversation was about sports and literature-I visited the Beta house where he lived the night that I finished James Joyces’ Ulysses because I felt he would understand-and I’m guessing now we’ll talk about kids and family and memories and how the heck a quarter century could have gone so fast.
I look forward to that meeting and that moment.
In the meantime, I’ll continue to be grateful for continuing to travel along life’s path, receiving many gifts, not the least of which is the pleasure that comes from anticipating reconnecting with an old friend, along the way.