Tomorrow I will pack myself onto the 2:45 Amtrak going north
into the upstate house for the New Year's Weekend. Ice has
begun to edge the creek and most everyone I know is praying
because there is a threat of the New Hampshire drought moving
Over the Christmas weekend up there, I was very aware of
the ticking of
clocks. Almost the first thing I did when I walked through
door was to wind the old clock that had sat all my life on
a shelf in a
hall at my parent's home, up until the death of my mother.
with a steady, heartbeat quality that can be quietly heard
all through a
house. I can remember nights lying awake in my bedroom upstairs,
listening to the clock, tick, tick, tick.
Those nights I dreamt about being an adult - and here I am
- an adult.
I live in New York City, spend the weekends in a house in
and have work that sits well with me. I realize how fortunate
I am. As
I was saying good-bye to a business friend after lunch today
for a moment in Grand Central before heading our separate
Both of us ruminated on the fact that this Holiday season
was a time of
people being better than they normally were - better than
at a Holiday time.
Two friends of mine have told me that individually they have
who can be either the good sibling or the bad sibling and
you never know
who you're going to get for Christmas dinner.
This Holiday they both got the good sibling who was even
better than the
good sibling was when it was the good sibling. Over and over
heard similar things from people. We are going out of our
way to be a
little nicer to each other this year.
Both of my friends - and others - directly relate this to
11th. It taught us how good things really are underneath.
Many, if not
most of the people, I know have taken a step back from their
the last quarter and realized just how good they really do
have it if
you compare it with others all around us.
Yes, it's been a terrible year. Yes, the tech market has
Yes, this. Yes, that. But we're alive and functioning. We
shelter and there is food. There is so much. We are not mourning
someone who went to work one day and never came home. We are
crawling our way back on donkeys to homes destroyed by more
generation of war.
If times have defining moments, we may well have just passed
and are living with its changes, growing with the times.
Yesterday, I woke to the NPR as I do almost every morning,
and as I rose
through sleep to wakefulness heard about the fires ringing
Australia. It was not an abstract vision for me. I have been
a half dozen times, three of them in 2000. I claim friends
I have lived a great part of my life in Los Angeles and have
through fires there, with the strange sense of dread that
life's movements as fire leaps from one hill to the next.
When fires burned through the Laguna Hills in the 1990's
a friend became
trapped in her garage when the electricity failed and was
firemen who came to see that her house was evacuated. And
her house was
saved because it was there the firemen took a stand against
using her roof as a high point for their hoses and their war
I've always thought highly of firemen. They saved our house
burning down on Christmas Day one year when I was a boy. But
have a special place in my world. Out there in Sydney 5000
fighting the wildfires.
Yesterday, I realized that if there was an image for this
year it was in
the face of a fireman I saw yesterday as his truck wound its
from a fire somewhere. It was the face of one man, indescribably
exhausted, exhausted further down than one day's work. It
was the face
of a man who has buried 343 of his co-workers and who will
300 or more go on permanent disability because of the effects
lungs from breathing the gases at Ground Zero.
I looked at the face of every other fireman on that truck
and ladder and
realized each one carried the same look, a look of exhaustion
But what was amazing to me, what will remain with me and inspire
the last day of my life, is that they were there at all. They
there, doing their job, being where they were supposed to
That is what has stayed with me while reading all the stories
people who lost their lives at the Trade Center. They were
lives, being where they were supposed to be when they were
be. They were doing their duty as they saw it, just as those
were doing yesterday, doing their duty as they saw it, and
they were supposed to be when they were supposed to be there.
It is what I take away from this year, 2001; that there is
dignity in doing what one should be doing when one says one
is going to
do it. That in the simple performance of the actions of life
there is a
glorious symmetry and structure and is the thing that is at
the base of
all human accomplishment.