Of All the Roads...

Back in Denver, enjoying two days of spectacularly clear, dry weather, I find myself wondering what all this fuss was about moving to Boston. If it's about building closer links with my family, there are simpler ways to accomplish that goal. Like the phone. For some reason, I am very reluctant to pick up the phone and talk to my father unless he and I have some sort of important family business deal to discuss. So this afternoon I rang him up, and we chatted for 20 minutes about this and that, just as we would while walking on the beach at Ocean Park. Whaddya know? The truth is, my connections in the West are strong after nearly 25 years of living in Wyoming and Denver. This city has a terrific mayor, John Hickenlooper, who isn't afraid to dream big and take practical steps toward his dreams, such as eliminating homelessness in 10 years or building a competitive advantage for Denver through culture and the arts. So it's great to be feeling closer to my family as a result of the month's visit in Maine. And it's also great to be back home.

Friday, September 02, 2005

The Best Present

I feel as if I could write a book about last night's birthday party at my parents' home here in Cambridge. The highlight was my mother's tapping her glass and asking everyone at the table to say a few words about the birthday boy, beginning with my father, moving to his left. If it had been an AA meeting, someone might have said "I'm just here to listen, I'll pass." But everyone said something that touched me, beginning with my sister Steph, then my son-in-law Joe, Fifi, my niece Fran, nephew Seth, Mom, daughter Sarah, Seth's wife Rebecca, Steph's partner Tim, and daughter Roo. In the middle of the night I lay awake for a while pondering all the nice things that had been said around that table. They left me energized to fill in the gaps in a better portrait of myself than the one I usually carry around in my head. This morning on the third floor I am listening to a CD that Roo gave me, by Jack Johnson. "I figured your rap collection is pretty complete," she said, and sure enough this is a mellow, beautiful collection of simple songs about life. I'm remembering Sarah's comment about how unusual it is to be noticed and listened to as well as she feels noticed and listened to by me. Also, my father's thoughtful ruminations about my wanderings West and East, and my mother's remembering how as a boy I impressed her by closely observing and commenting on situations. Once when we drove to Mrs. Crowell's house, Mom wanted me to take something to the door, but I was too timid to go. Stephie went, prompting me to tell my mother while we waited for her to return, "She may be small, but she sure is brave."

Actually, that comment gave rise my moment of most spiritual grace during the evening. Up till then I had been in a zone of bliss, listening to each person as if they were an angel coming to urge me forward in my life. But when Mom recounted the story of the errand at Mrs. Crowell's, I felt that boy's embarrassed shyness, a feeling that often recurs in the man, and I felt the competition between me and my sister, who seemed at first to get the better billing in this story. I felt a barbed comment form in my mind that would have tumbled me from grace and ruined the flow--"Wait a minute, this is MY birthday, not HERS!". But the words never made it past a kind of spiritual zapper, a safety net made of kind restraint. If I am making any spiritual progress in my life, it showed in that moment of not getting snagged on old stuff, of letting a childishly selfish and fearful thought simply move on through my mind without hurting anyone in the real world. It was a tiny victory for the man I would like to think I am becoming, mainly due to the inspiration and example I get at AA meetings, where I learn over and over than no one has a family free from pain and conflict. But a family that keeps moving forward in time, growing together, is an incredible source of strength and wisdom. A deeper awareness of that truth about my own family is by far the best present that I received the year I turned 55.

Wednesday, August 31, 2005

Double Nickels

Waking up in Boston on my birthday did not ring any particular chimes of destiny. And in fact, last night's walk in the drizzle from Kennedy's restaurant on Province Street back to the Four Seasons made the city seem dark and foreboding. Denver has plenty of homeless, but the folks sleeping on the steps of Episcopal Cathedral on Tremont Street seemed particularly forlorn, barely keeping dry. The Common and Public Garden, which seem like such healing expanses of green during the day, looked like good places for bad guys to hide as we walked along in the dark. After weeks of crystal clear weather in Maine, the elements have conspired to show Boston at its most dreary. Even the Boston Duck Tour yesterday afternoon seemed bleak. Our guide, one Vincent Van Duck, was a cynical artist bent on pointing out the city's every hypocrisy and excess, including the outrageous prices at a certain hotel we passed at 300 Boylston Street. It was still a thrill when the creaking World War II amphibian splashed into the Charles River for a stately paddle around the basin.

Fifty-five years old appeals to me, since five has always been my lucky number. My only real problem is too many good choices. Denver or Boston? How much time in France? Book reviews or poetry? Do I dare to eat a peach? Today I dare to imagine living somewhere near the Arlington Street Church, where I will walk next for a 7:30 am AA meeting. But more than an imagined domicile, I dream of a birthday savored and remembered for simple pleasures, like this sweet line from the Big Book: "If our manner is calm, frank, and open, we will be gratified with the result." (p. 78)

Tuesday, August 30, 2005


Two photos, taken 49 years apart, of the same person standing at approximately the same spot at Ocean Park, Maine. In 1956 I was wearing an MIT shirt, because my father had graduated from that school seven years earlier. For the historic reenactment this morning, I had considered wearing a shirt from my own alma mater, but in the end opted for buying an MIT t-shirt on Boston Common several weeks ago. MIT works well here at Ocean Park, because they were both founded in the same year, 1881. Historic accuracy was not a good enough reason to lure me into buying a pair of madras Bermuda shorts.

At age six, I seem to have been a worried little guy. My mother attributes this to the fact that we had just moved back to New England from Texas, where our one-year sojourn included the tragedy of a baby brother, Tommy, who died three days after he was born, at about this time of year. His birthday was the day after mine, which is coming up the day after tomorrow.

We are packing up for departure tomorrow morning after a month in the Hooper Cottage, the one at the right in the two photos. I am still toying with the possibility of another move from West to East, from downtown Denver to downtown Boston. This would mark the end of a considerably longer sojourn Out West, 25 years in Wyoming and Denver, compared to the one year in Pampa, Texas. Fifi gets a look similar to Lennie's at the prospect of leaving her dream home in LoDo. And in truth, this Boston thing this afternoon seems delusional. I've always hated moves. I love the West and our place in Denver. With the exception of my sister, no one in my family has jumped up and down and said, "it would be SO WONDERFUL to have you living fewer than 2,000 miles away." Maybe they're right. Families sometimes work better at a distance, and I am, after all, the one who left.

Nonetheless, I keep testing the water. Tomorrow afternoon we will check into a suite at the Four Seasons, overlooking the Boston Public Garden, accompanied by our visiting Wyoming friends, Tom and Tish. I am justifying this as a birthday extravagance, giving me the chance to wake up on August 30th as a Bostonian Birthday Boy . I am curious how it will feel. The photo reenactment today was fun but creepy, because of how it embodied the flashing by of nearly five decades of my life. It doesn't really matter where I live these days. I just want to be living with Fifi, close to my family and friends, for the next photo session on the dune in, say, 2045.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

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