As 2012 winds down, I have to say that I am filled with gratitude and just a touch of sadness.
I’m grateful for the enormous gifts I’ve received this past year.
To start, there are the gifts of good health, a clear mind, a loving family, caring friends and meaningful work.
The gift of new life in the family arrived in the form of our gorgeous nephew Matthew Kai Lowenstein, who I had the privilege of holding in my arms for the first time a couple of days ago. Matthew’s gained five or six pounds since entering the world nearly three months ago, and he’s still a peanut, and an active one at that.
His impossibly soft cheeks are getting rounder and his head is topped with a shock of black hair that at moments resembles 80s rock stars A Flock of Seagulls.
Like most babies, his life at the moment consists primarily of continuous cycles of eating, sleeping and pooping, and he’s constantly wiggling his arms, looking around his surroundings with his brown eyes and unleashing one of his seemingly inexhaustible supply of facial expressions.
Matthew’s birth, the first of a baby in our family, has cast a warm glow over all of our get-togethers as we take turns holding, cooing, laughing and delighting in his presence.
In short, he’s perfect.
Meeting Matthew was the cap on a year that included several extraordinary moments.
In May, after much planning and years of hopeful anticipation, we returned to Dad’s hometown in Germany. It was the first time he had set foot there since early 1939, when he left on the Kindertransport just weeks after having had his appendix removed.
Thanks to the tireless and forward-looking work of teacher Gabriele Thimm, our journey moved from a personal homecoming to a source of public healing as we attended and participated in a Ceremony of Life at both the Old Synagogue and the school where Gabriele taught.
Carried out by students, the ceremonies integrated our family history with the history of Jewish people in Essen, Jewish history in general and the rise of the Nazi Party.
The events were also the site of Dad’s announcement that, rather than accept the honorarium he had been offered, we were using the money to create an award in our family’s name to honor those students who acted with tolerance and justice.
Our trip included stops at Dad’s former apartments, his grandfather’s house, the Jewish cemetery and the home of a non-Jewish family who had been friends with ours, and, among many actions, held our Jewish family bible for close to a quarter century.
The trip was a gift not only because we brought Dad back home.
It reminded of life’s inexpressible preciousness as well as its rapid passage. The week reinforced to me the importance of seeking to live our lives from our deepest dreams and most basic values.
Those understandings gave me additional urgency to complete and publish On My Teacher’s Shoulders, a memoir about learning from my fourth grade teacher Paul Tamburello at three distinct points in my life over the course of 30 years.
I first mentioned the project to Paul in the summer of 1999, just months after I had run the Boston Marathon in his honor.
For the past couple of years we had pledged to complete it, but had arrived at today’s date without having made good on our intention.
This time, we did.
Working with designer Russell Weller, we developed a site that took the reader through the stories, giving them a timeline and plenty of photos, audio and even video along the way.
We had a glorious launch event on a Friday November evening at the auditorium at Pierce School, the place where I was both student and apprentice in Paul’s class and where he taught for 34 years.
Family, childhood friends, former teachers and colleagues all gathered and watched Paul reprise the role of Captain Hook that he has first played 40 years ago and made me convinced that I wanted him as my teacher.
Shortly before the launch I heeded Dunreith’s advice to create a print book so that those who want to can hold it in their hands.
Thanks to our production team of Russell, Paul, Dunreith and Jamie Dondero of the Harvard Book Store, we made that happen, too, selling, printing and delivering dozens of paperback copies of the books to people who purchased them.
This is all new territory, and, quite frankly, a delicious place to be as continue to move through a beautifully unfolding journey.
During the production process Dunreith and I also traveled to Bloemfontein, South Africa, where we attended and presented at the alternately riveting, intoxicating and overwhelming Engaging the Other conference.
Convened by former Truth and Reconciliation Commissioner Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela, the four-day conference brought together people from two dozen countries and more than 50 organizations, all of whom are dedicated to healing and reconciliation.
We told the story of the planning, execution and impact for our Germany trip.
Dunreith and I made statements in the auditorium at the conference.
Dad participated via audioconference.
Dunreith read a statement from Gabriele.
And I spoke about photos that Jon took that brought the audience through the week.
We received positive feedback about the session from folks from Rwanda to Germany, from South Africa to England via Israel. Their response deepened my sense that Emerson was right when he wrote about speaking your latent conviction and it shall be the universal sense.
And the stops we made along the way in England to see childhood friend Nick Harrison, who I met when we lived in Oxford in 1978, and in Johannesburg to spend time with, and introduce Dunreith to, friends from my Fulbright year in 1995, showed me the joy that can arise when we weave a life that integrates the many layers of life we are fortunate enough to experience and remember.
These are just some of the highlights of a year filled with daily gifts.
They were so momentous and unusual that the year’s ending give me just a twinge of sadness.
But then I ready myself and smile.
Another year begins on Tuesday.