To Change is to be New

aerie one

I’ve not been well the past day or two. I’m feeling much better but it certainly gave me the time to rest and absorb the world around me without distraction.

It occurred to me on my porch while staring at the surrounding woods, that at some point less than one hundred years ago none of those trees were there. The land has beautiful eighty foot oaks, some maples, tall thin pines and various other hardwoods including black walnut trees, which I am told can provide the ingredient necessary in the liqueur, Wild Spiced Nocino.

The branches protect birds as diverse as red-tailed hawks, downy woodpeckers, and countless chickadees, and they are habitat to other wildlife including one flying squirrel we spotted a few years ago when his tree fell. The squirrel was fine and found a new home in a white oak.

But a hundred years ago this was just land, sandy land, edged by the running Rappahannock River and backed by equally treeless farmland. A century before that these nearby plantations provided food for the region at the expense of slavery, and some slave descendants remain, selling vegetables at food carts out on the main road, or working the bay as watermen, telling stories about how the Chesapeake is just about farmed clean every season by crabbers at the mouth or the headwaters leaving nothing left for those working the midland shoals.

This area hasn’t changed much in one hundred years.

It is like this everywhere, the coming and going of things. In Manhattan a few hundred years before the wild construction on bedrock, coyote and deer were common. It was hilly (Manhattan means land of hills), and where the United Nations stands once stood grand oaks. The Lower West side was a sandy beach, and ecologists say if left to do what it wanted, most of the upper west side would be covered in trees and vines, shrubbery and wildflowers inside twenty years.

I can’t imagine what my house would look like if left untouched. When I don’t mow the lawn for a few weeks it looks like a refuge for timber wolves.

But these trees weren’t here a century ago and I sat on my porch and wondered if there had been other trees or if this land was barren. A few hundred years ago it was used by the Powhatans as hunting grounds.

This happens to me everywhere I lived; I like to imagine what was on that spot one hundred, two hundred, a millennium earlier. The house I rented in Pennsylvania was used as a hospital during the civil war. Before that it was a farm. Now it is a Real Estate office. The maples which lined the road and shaded the living room are gone. Someone planted new ones but it will be decades before they mature. My house in Massachusetts was a fish market a century earlier. Purpose moves on with time. Maybe that’s why I’m so mesmerized by the Prague hotel I always stay at. It was the same building seven hundred years ago that it is now. But here on my porch I realize this house is the only place in my life I’ve lived for twenty-six years, and I was curious if five times that score of years ago I could sit on this spot and see right out on the water, or were there trees then as well, different ones which died or were timbered to make room for crops.

The house is made from western pine forested on land which I assume is either now empty of trees or filled with young pines waiting to become log homes. What will be left a hundred years from now? Will someone sit on this same porch and look right out toward the bay once these oaks have long fallen? I know this house, this land, is a “hotel at best” as Jackson Browne despondently points out. “We’re here as a guest.”

Wow. Wrote myself into some sad corner there. Thanks Jackson.

I know nothing is as permanent as nature, despite the constant changes. It simply isn’t going anywhere. We are. So I like to remember that a century ago farmers sat here and talked about the bounty in the soil, or talked to 19th century watermen about the changing tides. And I like to realize that a hundred years before that the nearby swampland, now home to so many osprey and egrets, was a major route for runaway slaves. They’d have been safe in these woods, if there were woods then.

I like to do that because it reminds me a hundred years from now perhaps I will have left some sort of evidence of my passing through; even if just in the cultivation of language, the farming of words.

So I sit on the porch and listen to the wind through the leaves. It is now; it is right here, now. Sometimes at night we stand in the driveway with the telescope and study Saturn, or contemplate the craters on the moon—both here long before us and in some comforting way, long after we’re gone.

In spring and fall the bay breezes bring music even Vivaldi would envy, and I’ll listen to his Four Seasons, written nearly four hundred years ago, and listen to the wind through the leaves of these majestic, young trees reaching eighty feet high, and be completely, perfectly in the moment.

Despite the warming trends, the extreme tendencies of weather, the fragile ecosystem which sustains life, nature is still the only place I have found that really doesn’t change. It never has. Ice ages and dust bowls will alter it, but eventually some seed will take root.

aerie two

Tavern on the Green, August 1984

La Caverna Restaurant, Mexico

In the summer following college graduation, my primary occupation was driving.

Not for Uber or Lyft; no taxis or any other respectable means of earning money. No, I just drove. In August that year I drove across the country to Arizona, and then on to San Diego, up to the Grand Canyon, south into Mexico and weekly trips to San Xavier Mission down Route 19.

And I ate my way around. I loved trying the local food everywhere, whether served at the fancy restaurants in cities or dusty dives in places barely registering as villages. In Nogales, Mexico, I ate weekly at La Caverna. It was the first time I ever had guacamole mixed in my salad, and sour cream, and I was hooked. In another Mexican village further south I used to knock on the door of a woman I met at La Caverna. She would make me paella for a few dollars. I’d eat on her porch next to her beagle, and she’d tell me everything I said wrong in Spanish. In Tucson I ate lunch in a park near the old mall on the southside of the city where old women sold fireplace-log sized burritos for fifty cents. Authenticity at its most mejor. For breakfast I went to Irv’s deli, transplanted from Manhattan with signed pictures on the wall from everyone from Alan Alda to Stephen Sondheim, all exclaiming, “Good luck in Tucson, Irv!! I’ll miss your bagels!” He had water flown in from New York and the bagels were as good as those in Brooklyn.

I drove to El Paso and had tacos. To New Orleans and had beignets. Back near home the following summer I had Carolina barbeque and Chesapeake Bay softshell crabs. I kept rolling, eventually to the Sterling Inn in Massachusetts where I worked when not at the health club, and where I ate bowls of New England Clam Chowder and schrod (a white fish—with the “h” it is usually haddock, and without the “h” it is usually cod), “Vineyard” style—coated with a Dijon/mayonnaise spread then breaded. Hence the need for the day job at the health club.

But along the way I spent some time at my dear friend Sean Cullen’s apartment in Brooklyn which he shared with a friend of his, Mike. I had an interview with Theatre Arts Magazine to be a staff writer—they had read a file of my work I had sent and asked to meet with me. I went to Brooklyn, parked in a friend’s driveway in Bay Ridge, and headed to Presidents Street and 4th Avenue—today a mecca of café glory—forty years ago a death wish.

The day of the interview I was flying high. I had worked hard back in Virginia and had saved money for adjusting to a move to “the city.” Sean had a PA job for some commercial and several auditions for parts, so I told him I’d see him that night for pizza at Vinny’s on 7th Avenue, and I boarded the subway at 9am for a 3pm appointment at the magazine. By 10 I was walking all over midtown, strolled into NBC and stood next to Walter Matthau on an elevator, walked to the park, and realized I still had several hours to kill when I decided to treat myself to lunch at Tavern on the Green. What a way to start my career as a writer in New York City, by eating in one of the landmarks of the Big Apple. This place was in Beaches, Ghostbusters, the Out-of-towners, Arthur, and more.

The maître d showed me to my small table near a window, just next to a table occupied by Marvin Hamlisch. I ordered a glass of wine, sipped some water, and nodded to one of my favorite composers of all time. “I love your work,” I said, quietly, then put my hand up to indicate that was all I was going to say. He thanked me earnestly and ordered a club sandwich.

My turn, and I perused the menu looking for something distinctly New York, particularly since I was starving. I knew I wouldn’t find black and white cookies on the menu, and nearly every item listed was out of my price range. I was about to order an appetizer only when I saw steak listed for $18.95. Wow, I could afford that despite it seeming pricey for a 1984 lunch, but I couldn’t order the club sandwich. Marvin just ordered it and after my nod and comment, to do so seemed too stalkish for me.

“I’ll have the steak,” I told the server, who took my menu and said, “Oh, very nice choice,” in the same manner he said it to Marv for the club. I so fit in here, I thought.    

“I will bring you a tray of spices, sir,” he said.

“That’d be fine,” I replied, noting how unique it is for the chef not to put them on himself during the cooking stage,

“And crackers,” he added.

“Of course,” I said. “Steak and crackers.”

I sipped my wine, looked out at a couple standing in the park-side entrance, at the tall buildings across the park, and the brilliant blue sky. I was disappointed I mentioned pizza to Sean since the steak was probably going to fill me up, but I’d be walking a lot, so I knew it would be fine.

The server returned with a round tray of spices and a separate tray of various style crackers, and water. He also put down a small fork—slightly bigger than a shrimp fork, but not like a salad fork. “They’re preparing the Steak Tartare now sir,” he said, and left. Looking back I think he relished the fact I had absolutely no idea what he was talking about, but at the time he was just probably doing his job. He brought Marv his sandwich with chips and an iced tea, then smiled at me. Marvin smiled at me too.

I sat quietly looking at the spices and the crackers and thought of Ponderosa Steak House, where you stand in line with a tray and pick out your meal from overhead menus. I usually got a New York Strip, baked potato, corn, and fresh bread. They’d put a plastic marker on your tray indicating “MR” for medium-rare, and we’d find a table made from fat wood and sit on the bench, and I could smell the meat grilling like I was on some Texas ranch at suppertime. I don’t once in any trip to that place or Steak and Ale or Bonanza Steak House or Links on Long Island recall crackers and spices.

Then the waiter slipped a plate of raw meat in front of me. A round, Derby-hat shaped lump of ground beef–raw, like they just sliced open the cellophane and took this pile off of the green styrofoam and flipped it onto the China plate. A sprig of parsley fell on the top. I looked at it a long time, thinking about the small chunks of raw meat my mother would let me have when she made hamburgers for a picnic, and how with each small amount she would say, “Not too much, you can get very ill from raw meat.”

This has gotta be a better grade, I thought.

I took a small pinch of one of the darker spices and some grated cheese and sprinkled it gently on the meat dome. I sat a moment looking at it, then overturned the spice tray onto the meat, feeling better, but resisting the urge to knead the spices into the meat as if making a meatloaf. I also resisted the urge to ask them to heat it up, or, you know, cook it; I’d wait.

Instead, I picked a cracker, picked up my odd fork with two prongs, and gently slid some chuck onto a saltine. I enjoyed it. A lot. But you know after a few small crackers of raw meat, it gets a bit tiresome. I chewed a bit for a while as Marvin looked over and smiled. I swallowed. “A Chorus Line is by far my favorite,” I said, then, “have you ever had the Steak Tartare here; best I’ve ever had.”

“I haven’t,” he said through a laugh as he paid his bill. I laughed, which I think he appreciated. He stood to leave and picked up his plate which still had one quarter of his club sandwich on it, and placed it on my table. Then he looked at my plate and quietly added, “They never cook it long enough for my taste,” and left. Best damn club sandwich in Manhattan.

My stomach hurt in the elevator on the way to Theatre Arts Magazine, but I think it was just in my head, plus nerves. I met a wonderful editor whose name I have long ago forgotten who said she absolutely loved my writing but wanted to talk to me about what I knew about the technical side of the theatre.

It was a very short conversation. Nothing. I insisted I could learn but she insisted she had several other interviews that day and she’d call me. I knew she wouldn’t. I stopped on the way back to Brooklyn and had a hotdog and some chocolate Italian ice, and that night Sean and I had pizza from Vinny’s.

At dinner, Sean asked how everything went in the city, and I sat quietly swallowing a thin slice of pie, where I had to bend the edges to hold it together, and some oil dripped onto the plate, and I said, “You know what? Kiss the day goodbye and point me toward tomorrow. I did what I had to do.”

Tavern on the Green
Steak Tartare


26 letters.

That’s it.

In the beginning. That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger. To be or not to be—that one just six letters.  Jesus wept—seven.

I can’t write, my students say; my very own demons say when something needs to be said but I’m at a loss of words. The history of English has turned and spun back on itself, argued with endings and double negatives, trampled meaning, treasured nuances, made murderers of us all, and unearthed muses to slipknot a string of letters, tie together thoughts like popcorn for a Christmas tree, individual kernels only able to dangle dutifully due to one common thread.

I do. Rest in Peace. Go to Hell. I quit. Fuck you. I love you—7 letters.

The English language, more specifically the alphabet, was not alphabetical at first, made that way in the 1300’s on Syria’s northern coast.  Today, we slaughter its beauty with a cacophony of sounds whose aesthetic value is lost in translation while simultaneously softening hardened hearts with poetry and prose for the ages. For nearly a millennium this alphabet whose letters lay the way for understanding in multiple languages, has dictated decrees, is uttered by infants one syllable at a time until by age five they’ve mastered the twenty six consonants and vowels.  What circles of wonder are children’s faces when someone’s tongue pushes out “toy” “treat” “your mommy’s here” “your daddy’s home.”

Plato said, “Wise men talk because they have something to say, fools, because they have to say something”; Socrates said, “False words are not only evil in themselves, but they infect the soul with evil.” The sins of our fathers forever condemn us to hell but for confession, penance, and absolution.

Forgive me father for I have sinned—14 letters.

Of all the languages on the planet, English has the largest vocabulary at more than 800,000 words, all from those same 26 symbols.

There are roughly forty five thousand spoken languages in the world, about 4500 written today but almost half of them are spoken by less than a thousand people. English, though, is the most common second language on Earth—translated or original, the Magna Carter, The Declaration, The Bible, the Koran, the Torah, the tablets tossed by Moses and a death certificate are all reassembled versions of the twenty-six.

I have a dream—eight letters.

Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country—fourteen.

We the People–seven


Billowy is one of only a few seven letter words whose six letters remain alphabetical. Spoon-feed is the longest, at nine letters, whose seven letters are reverse-alphabetical.

We can talk, us English. We can spin a yarn, chew the fat, beat the gums, flap the lips. We have the gift of gab, we run off with the mouth, we can spit it out, shoot the breeze, talk someone’s ears off, or just talk shop, talk turkey, talk until we’re blue in the face, be the talk of the town. We can, for certain, at just seven letters, bullshit.

We hope some symphonic phrase might come closer then the limitations of language. This is the frustration of poets, the complete sense of ineptitude of writers and lovers throughout history. To define that smile, the slight lean forward, that light through laced curtains at just that moment all those years later. But life, like language, is filled with limitations.

My point (7 letters) is that (3 letters) sometimes, despite our skills (4 letters) with the English language (6 letters), we are often left either in love (four letters) or, at just six letters, speechless.

A Wealthy Soul

I fell through the ice on a frozen lake in northern Norway in March of ‘95. It was two in the morning, twenty below, and I followed two friends across the snowy ice toward a road on the other side. I heard the ice crack and I stood still, a green band of aurora borealis bent just above us, and I stood still like Wile E. Coyote—suspended for just a moment listening to the ice crack—and thought, “oh, wow, shit,” and went through.

I landed just about ten inches below the surface on another ice shelf. I stood just deep enough for frigid water to cover and fill my boots about calf high. I waited for the next crack when Joe turned and we froze in fear of us both plunging into the lake. This wasn’t the first time I’d walked on thin ice, but previous mishaps were mostly metaphorical. I stood with icy feet; my heart pounded in my chest ready to plunge into my stomach when the ice again cracked. Nothing. Our friend John turned and laughed. “It’s day melt,” he said, ahead of us by twenty feet, already on the shore. “The surface ice melts a bit each day then freezes at night, but it’s thin. That’s what we were walking on. The second layer you landed on is probably six feet thick.” 

“Why didn’t you go through?” I asked, John was six three and not a light man. 

“I was first,” he said. “I loosened it for you.” “Why didn’t you watch where you were going?” John asked.

“I was looking at the northern lights,” I told him. He looked up and nodded, “Oh yeah,” he replied. “I didn’t notice.”

WTF?! I thought.

I sloshed to shore, took off my socks, and stood at the end of a fjord when across a field six moose stood taller than us all. I put my boots back on and watched the moose move toward us. They were bull-like, each one heavier than the three of us combined. The night was still, and the air was calm. To the north lay nothing but wilderness for a thousand miles; the Arctic Circle sat a hundred miles south. I was soaked in below zero temperatures, green bands of borealis bent above my head, the moose moved toward us, and I never felt so awake, like sleep wasn’t part of the Human idea. Awake. The northern lights lingered as if in water, as if the sky was submerged and the green bands couldn’t bend faster than the deep blue flow would allow, and we floated between. The moose moved closer. I held my breath. Two leaped just beyond our reach and bounced over the ice with absolute grace.

That moment, right then, will never go away.

I’ve been thinking about life lately, the highs of accomplishments and the stress that comes with obligations, and I looked out across the bay this morning, took a deep breathe in the chilly autumn breeze, and thought about how grateful I am for having such wealth for just about my entire life. Truth be told, I have always been wealthy.

Like the tram ride at Lake Baikal in Siberia or just about any day in Spain, the sunsets in Tucson and just about any evening at the river. We rise every morning and gaze at life around us, but how often are we awake, I mean completely and blatantly awake? Sitting here tonight I understand for all of the gives and takes of life, I’ve had the privilege to be wide wake for most of it.

I mean Alive. It doesn’t hurt to take stock of those moments from time to time to remind us when we need a slap across our attitude to snap us back to the awareness that we are always alive if we choose to be.

Like sitting on the sand at the Gulf of Mexico drinking coconut rum and laughing; standing between cars on a train ten thousand miles from home; knee deep in the Great South Bay singing Harry Chapin songs; waist deep in the Congo in the rain; that lunch with my son, my brother, and my dad at the beach; riding a motorcycle from Amsterdam to the Zuiderzee; lunch at La Caverna after buying blankets; breakfast on the dirt in Dakar; clawing my way to the Wind Cave in Utah. 

Studies tell us that most of us sleep a third of our lives and most of us work a third of our lives. And now at my age with hopefully about a third of my life left, I’d like to spend as much of what amounts to one third of that third being fully awake before the ground falls beneath my feet.

My grandparents’ attic; my mom’s laugh, salt water on my lips. My dad’s deep “very funny” response to a joke, that time I stayed with my brother at Notre Dame and we stood in the student section and watched the Irish destroy Air Force.

Pigeons at a graveyard on the Gulf of Finland. 

The way Eddie and I would hike forever through the marshes of Hechscher; sitting behind third base at Shea in ’69; hitchhiking to Niagara Falls–an hour and a half drive that took us an hour and a half to thumb up there from college, but we began our hike back at 5 pm and were still walking at 3 am. The end zone at Rich Stadium when they retired Simpson’s 32. My sister’s guitar and how I played in Steve’s basement, how I listened to Jonmark in just about every venue in Virginia Beach, how I played my way through college, that time singing and playing “Danny’s Song” with KL in the dressing room before a gig, the midnight sun in St Petersburg in June of 99.

Oysters on ice. A good slice of pizza. The smell of food grilling. A blanket of stars.

The colors of autumn outside my home in New England, the smell of cider drifting down from the mill in Sterling. Running into an old friend in a new place. 

A cow driving to work. My dog hiding beneath the bed during a storm. My son holding his too-big-for-his-arm’s bunny. The way when I returned from a month in Russia when my son was two, he grabbed his zoo book of pictures, climbed on my lap and would not let me get up. 

An email from someone I had not heard from in twenty-two years. The first green showing through the snow in spring. The leaves just past peak. The sound of waves. The sound of kids laughing. An old couple holding hands. 

The front edge of an idea. That feeling of outrageous anticipation when you decide to do something brand new. The way you one day realize who you are and that you’re okay with it. 

Pachelbel’s Canon in D. Bach’s Joy. Walking down an old street in St Augustine and hearing a guitar player singing Marley’s Redemption Song like it was Bob himself. Chasing ghosts at the old lighthouse.

And other moments:

“Yes sir, it’s a boy.” 

“He’s gone. Come back when you get this.”

“Hey…it’s me.”

I can tell you how much money I have made from working in hotels and health clubs, from teaching college and writing books, but I can never calculate the wealth of my life. Can you? Can you measure the moments on a spreadsheet? Can you figure the net value of that time you saw your dad waving to your plane from the observation deck at the airport? The value of those last lucid moments when he seemed young again? The priceless moment your son’s voice cracked and changed. That moment you realize it would have worked out just fine if given the chance. That moment you realize sometimes the most painful moments are the ones that taught you who you need to be and what you are made of.

We are alive. Now. Today. And yet people hold grudges, people don’t forgive, people don’t realize how fast it is, people don’t look up to watch life bounce across the sky.

Humanity 101

Humanity is a crazy race, building irrigation systems to help grow food to feed millions while building methods to annihilate those poor souls in seconds. Maybe the greatest irony of education is the stretches of intelligence, research, and application it takes for the human mind to conceive, create, and execute weapons which can evaporate entire cities. The mechanics to build the means by which to destroy someone else wouldn’t cross the mind of an uneducated person.

Only educated people can conceive of and carry out a holocaust.

It feels tragically like no one wants to save the world anymore.

Let’s start simply: there needs to be a new requisite in schools everywhere: Humanity 101. The course could cover the benefits of helping other people, the rewards of sharing not just gains but losses as well. There could be a lesson on compassion and one on being a good Samaritan. A sociologist might talk in one session about how what happens in one section of the globe really does have an impact on the rest, and a psychologist can show the class how to balance the beauty of nature with the evil things people say and do.

A theologian could explain why there are, or at least needs to be, some absolute morals. That person might explain why the belief in postmortem consequences is what can keep evil in check, keep the horrible potential of humanity at bay. Without preaching about salvation in heaven, he or she can certainly drop in a few lectures about earthly responsibility to each other, and if the fear of God is necessary to get it done, so be it; not unlike threatening toddlers who act up with the possibility of Santa skipping their house as a result.

The potential of a little supernatural backlash is just what this world could use right now. Honestly, it seems like no one wants to save the world anymore. I fear for the absence in education of something other than the notion of “career.”

We could talk about foods of other lands. Truly, we just might have as good a chance at preventing war by knowing what our neighbors like on their pizza as understanding the treaties that keep us apart.

At a department meeting once some years ago, I raised the idea with everyone about a class like this–one section, I said. We could discuss world holiday traditions and how to say hi in twenty-five languages. We could show pictures of babies and then pictures of those same babies but older, as soldiers with guns, and with each one tell his or her name, what they do for a living when not killing people, what their favorite pizza topping is and what books do they read to their daughters and sons.

They laughed. The department chair said I needed serious help. She said I really didn’t fit in.

I guess. Whatever.

Humanity 101 could meet each week at a different person’s home, and the first fifteen minutes could be a tour of wall hangings and books and movies, and we’d learn about that person and I’d say, “We should do this 7.3 billion times!” and everyone would laugh. “How else to avoid war? How do you suggest we avoid genocide?”

I know how to quiet a room.

It just seems that maybe to save the world we need to work first on understanding it.

Maybe to save ourselves we need to work first on understanding ourselves.

I don’t know, but after thirty-plus years of leading Humanities courses I know this: We are teaching the wrong material. We are learning the wrong lessons.


An old dilapidated house near my home dates to the seventeen hundreds. It sits in the middle of what was once a slave plantation. Just across the land long ago gone were the slave quarters. Today the house is covered by vines and trees; some dying themselves after a century of life. Generations of neighbors have come and gone, and generations of foliage and storms and crops have come and gone and what’s left of the house crumbles into the earth.

Some say let it crumble; some say tear it down and build a new place on the land and give it to the slaves’ descendants, many of whom still live on the same road; oppressed people either stay close to home or never come back.

When I walk past I am painfully aware that I shared this space, separated only by time, with people who whipped men and women, others who were whipped and shackled. This isn’t a movie; it isn’t even history when you stand on the muddy lane at the end of the path and look toward the once-was porch and picture a fine-dressed overseer ordering humans to commit inhumane acts. This is where I live. We live. My family on the Island and my friends on the Gulf Coast all live here too; just beyond reach, a little off the calendar.

In my time, since my arrival, I’ve breathed in and out at the same time as Mother Theresa and Malcolm X. Neil Armstrong. Jimi Hendrix. Pope Paul the Sixth. Lech Walesa. St. John Paul the Second. Thomas Merton. President Eisenhower. Elvis. Pablo Picasso. Albert Schweitzer.


Rwandan Tutsi’s. The Lost Boys of Sudan. Steven Biko. Pol Pot and Treyvon Martin.

I did time with these people; I stood witness to these events. These saints and sinners brushed my sleeve simply by sharing the earth on my watch. We have a loose affiliation with miracles and massacres as if life wasn’t less timeless than it is; but we’re just guests here.

This world is at best a hotel, and every once in awhile I take a look at the register to remind myself who else stayed here. Alexander the Great, Charlemagne, Mohammed, Ivan the Terrible, Genghis Khan, all guests just over the slope of the horizon, just beyond some small slice of linear measure. On the same human trajectory as mine but before is Geronimo, Moses, Jesus, Christ think about the gentle bend of time, the careening swerve of place that separates me from the Disciples, the Visigoths, the founding fathers. All here but just before.

My swift life falls on the roll call as Richard Wright and Ernest Hemingway. And when that shack in the woods around the corner from my home was still in its prime, the walls still absorbing the shrieks of rape, the cries of bleeding men, Grandma Moses was a toddler. Grandma Moses, who painted her last work about the time I learned to swim. I was alive when someone was alive who was alive during the Civil War.

Closer to now, when I look inside the lines of my coming and going, between those two rays shooting off from my birth and my death, I can see the souls who at one time or another shared with me this spinning blue wad. Not short of miraculous, we claim the same particles of stardust, and that’s what keeps me looking around when I walk down some city street; I want to know who on earth is with me.

Carl Jung lectured during my youth, and Ty Cobb watched the same Mets players as me. When I was still cutting new teeth and outgrowing my Keds, I could have headed downtown with my Dad and possibly been on the same train as William Faulkner, e.e. cumming or Marilyn Monroe. I might have passed them on the street, maybe stood in line at some drug store counter with my mom and behind us because of the blending of circumstance might have been Sylvia Plath or Sam Cooke; Nat King Cole; Otis Redding. We have overlapping lives. On a Venn Graph, we share the shaded space.

If my family had gone for a drive the summer I turned eight and stopped to get a room in Memphis instead of the Poconos, we would have heard the shot that killed King. And in ’63, I was the same age, same small height as John-John and could have stood next to him, shoulder to shoulder, to salute his dad’s coffin.

Judy Garland and I watched the New York Jets in Super Bowl Three. When I was born, World War One vets weren’t yet senior citizens and World War Two Vets were in their thirties. Vietnam isn’t history to me; it is my childhood, my early teens. The fall of Saigon was announced over the loud speakers at my high school.

There are empty fields save monuments and markers where soldiers died defending this land against the British, against ourselves, and at some point before their demise they stood where I stand and watched the hazy sun rise. Same sun; same beach. Don’t mistake history for “back then.” Those people just happened to check out before us. It could have been us. It is us now. And it won’t be long before our lives overlap with the crying call of a newborn Einstein. Did you see that boy running at the park? That girl climbing the tree at her home? Did I just pass by some senator, some Cicero or Socrates, some St Augustine? Now is the only history we know firsthand.

I find it a crime we are not incessantly aware we were preceded by the likes of ancient civilizations, but also by evil. For God’s sake, Eichmann and I did common time, Hitler was my grandfather’s age; so was Stalin.  But so was Isak Dineson and Winston Churchill. My grandfather lived into my youth, yet was born before flight, about the time of the first automobile, before radio, and before long some sweet woman and man will find each other softly adding to who comes next.

Like strangers buying the same house decades before and after, like seeing the list of who owned the used car, like getting a job replacing some retiree. Like standing in line. Like sour-dough starter. Like a relay race.

I like knowing the people I know now, these brothers and sisters, whose overlapping lives linger just within my time frame; we share the same air, watch the same news and celebrate the same wins. In some divine book somewhere, these people and I are on the same page. My parents, my siblings, my children, my God what grace to have shared this passage from cradle to grave.

And you, there, reading this; we’ve shared wine and we’ve laughed together, disappeared, collided, and sat quietly and finished each others’ sighs–what are the…I mean, is it even possible to figure the odds and calculate the multitudes of humans in these millennia that I might even know your name?