Amazon: “In the 1950s, ninety-five percent of patients with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of lymph tissue which afflicts young adults, died.
“Today most are cured, due mainly to the efforts of Dr. Henry Kaplan. Henry Kaplan and the Story of Hodgkin’s Disease explores the life of this multifaceted, internationally known radiation oncologist, called a ‘saint’ by some, a ‘malignant son of a bitch’ by others.
“Kaplan’s passion to cure cancer dominated his life and helped him weather the controversy that marked each of his innovations, but it extracted a high price, leaving casualties along the way. Most never knew of his family struggles, his ill-fated love affair with Stanford University, or the humanitarian efforts that imperiled him.”
[Note: I was diagnosed and treated for cancer in 1976 when I was 28 years old. This is how I described the experience when I was in the midst of my first round of radiation treatment.]
A New Lease on Life by Joel Solkoff, November 26, 1976
I am 28 years old and I have cancer. Anger comes before anything else. There are times that the anger becomes overwhelming, turns to frustrated rage, because there is no one to be angry at. I can curse God which I’ve done many times, but it is unsatisfying because God doesn’t shout back. Crying helps.
I started weeping in the hospital. An intern; frightened by the emotion, asked me to stop, She said I was upsetting the other patients. I told her to get lost, and when I was done weeping I found her and shouted at the top of my lungs, “You’re what’s wrong with doctors. You have no feelings!” It felt good to shout at someone.
My form of cancer was first described in 1832 by Dr. Thomas Hodgkin—after whom it is named—and its cause is still a mystery. It is a disease of the lymphatic system, clogging the body’s ability to purify the blood and thus to fight off infection.
The cancerous tumors, which are enlarged lymph nodes, may also take over nearby vital organs, such as the liver and lungs. Because the tumors are part of a system that circulates throughout the body, surgical removal generally does not remove the disease. A microscopic piece of tumor may remain in the body, or whatever caused the gland to grow abnormally large may already be elsewhere. Such problems made Hodgkin’s disease extremely difficult to treat and meant that, until quite recently, it was described as “universally fatal.”
In my lifetime, advances in treatment have been so successful that it appears unlikely that the disease will affect my lifespan or that I will feel its effects. Many techniques are so new that we patients haven’t lived long enough to establish whether we’ve been “cured.” The other day, as the technician adjusts my body under the linear accelerator, she said, “If I had to pick a disease to have, I’d pick yours.”
During the months of incapacitation, Ihave slowly begun to appreciate that I am fortunate to be living in these times. The process began when a lump under arm right arm did not go away. The lump did not hurt; it wasn’t even uncomfortable, but seeing a doctor seemed sensible. My appointment was on a Friday afternoon, and when the internist grabbed the phone, told me to run three blocks to the nearby surgeon, and then reassured me “not to worry,” I was frightened. Removing the lump, under a local anesthetic, hurt less than I had feared. After an assortment of pathologists had looked at sections of the lump under a microscope and after one misdiagnosis (Hodgkin’s disease is a difficult cancer to identify), my internist’s suspicions were confirmed.
Then came tests. To treat the disease it was first necessary to know where it was located. I was injected with isotopes So that my liver would show up on a television screen. Marrowwas taken from the hip bone. There were blood tests and X-rays. My feet were slit open so an opaque fluid could run through the lymphatic system.
Finally, there was abdominal surgery. Its purpose was exploratory, but the pain afterwards was overwhelming. Screaming for more relief than the drugs could give, I was oblivious to the long-term beneficial result. I had always thought that pain was either avoidable or imaginary.
As soon as I recovered from surgery, the internist prescribed the treatment–radiation. The radiology lab is in a basement, and most of us walk in off the street as outpatients. When patients come in for the first time, their names are placed on a blackboard, with the name of the disease and of the doctor. Etiquette forbids the placing of numbered odds, but most patients do not share my apparent good fortune.
I go into the room where X-rays are sent through my body every day for 12 weeks. The process takes a few minutes and is painless. The rays kill all cells the area at which the machine is focused. Because cancer cells multiply more rapidly than normal cells, the rays do more lasting damage to the cancer cells. However, since cells are killed indiscriminately, treatments make me feel weak and weepy.
I have trouble swallowing. The hair on the back of my neck has fallen out –temporarily. I have severe skin burn. My stomach feels queasy and I spend a lot of energy fighting the urge to vomit. Slowly, I have come to understand that life has been given to me for a second time.
Joel Solkoff is author of “The Politics of Food.”
He said I was in my early 40’s,
With a lot of life before me,
And a moment came that stopped me on a dime.
I spent most of the next days, lookin’ at the x-rays,
Talkin’ ’bout the options and talkin’ ’bout sweet time.
Asked him when it sank in, that this might really be the real end.
How’s it hit ya, when you get that kind of news.
Man what ya do.
And he says,
[Chorus]I went sky divin’,
I went rocky mountain climbin’,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull name Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I gave forgiveness I’ve been denying,
And he said someday I hope you get the chance,
To live like you weredyin’.He said I was finally the husband,
That most the time I wasn’t.
And I became a friend a friend would like to have.
And all the sudden goin’ fishing,
Wasn’t such an imposition.
And I went three times that year I lost my dad.
Well I finally read the good book,
And I took a good long hard look at what I’d do
If I could do it all again.
And then.[Chorus]Like tomorrow was a gift and you’ve got eternity
To think about what you do with it,
What could you do with it, what can
I dowith with it, what would I do with it.[Chorus]
I went rocky mountain climbin’,
I went 2.7 seconds on a bull name Fumanchu.
And I loved deeper,
And I spoke sweeter,
And I watched an eagle as it was flyin’.
And he said someday I hope you get the chance,
To live like you weredyin’.To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’.
To live like you were dyin’.
In recent years, the use of wheelchairs with electric motors has become common. These wheelchairs use a storage battery similar to that found in automobiles, which is charged by connecting it to ordinary house current for several hours when the wheelchair is not in use. The chair is operated by means of a joystick, which controls both steering and acceleration.
The wheelchair permits a high degree of mobility for wheelchair-bound invalids who cannot operate a regular wheelchair, both in the house and outside. The invalid is able to feel independent and self-sufficient, which is extremely important for his self-esteem.
Two outstanding Torah authorities in Jerusalem approached the Zomet Institute in order to devise the technical solutions to permit use of wheelchairs on Shabbat.
B. The Prohibitions Involved
Use of an electric motor on Shabbat, which does not result in the creation of light or any other Shabbat creation, is the subject of a continuing discussion among scholars. In our case, where the source of the current is a battery, the problem of power generated on Shabbat does not exist. The battery is not a
generator, and only releases power stored before Shabbat when it was charged. There are three possible categories of Shabbat prohibition that apply:
Yes, it would be helpful to know why I am forever celebrating Thanksgiving. Don't you think?
When I was born Harry Truman was President of the United States. Here is President Truman’s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation for 1947 [official proclamation number 2756.]
President Harry S Truman‘s Thanksgiving Day Proclamation when I was less than two months old
By the President of the United States of America A Proclamation
Older than our nation itself is the hallowed custom of resting from our labors for one day at harvest time and of dedicating that day to expressions of gratitude to Almighty God for the many blessings which He has heaped upon us. Now, as the cycle of the year nears completion, it is fitting that we should lift up our hearts again in special prayers.
Controversies over the issuance of President Proclamations and indeed over the celebration of Thanksgiving itself are not unusual. Wikipedia has a lengthy section where Native American groups and historians criticize Thanksgiving as a mythological Massachusetts celebration of harmony between Native Americans and European settlers. The celebrations were then followed by the genocide of Native Americans.
[5. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was criticized for proclaiming Thanksgiving so late in the month of November of 1933. The Depression was at its worst and he was trying to stimulate Christmas shopping. In 2013, President Obama was criticized for not mentioning God in his Thanksgiving proclamation. In 2014, he was criticized for only mentioning God once. Other presidents have been criticized by atheist groups for mentioning God at all.
[6. For me, Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday of the year. It has always meant for me criticism of the killing of Native Americans and concern for the poor and hungry who have not had the opportunity to enjoy our country’s abundance. I was raised by a single mother who was raised by a single mother. For my mother Miriam, who adored President Franklin Roosevelt, Thanksgiving meant the president’s effort to use the holiday to integrate immigrant groups into our country’s social fabric. For me it represents an understanding that on this special day regardless of our personal, political, and social views, the United States is one country under God committed to a concept of government best summed up by the late Governor of New York Alfred Smith who said, “The only cure for the ills of Democracy is more Democracy.” This year I read the Bill of Rights in celebration of Thanksgiving.
[7. Yes, I do plan to publish at least one more presidential proclamation, the one issued in November 1960 by President Dwight David Eisenhower shortly after President John Kennedy was elected president. My mother, for whom saving money was not easy, flew up that year from Florida to Brooklyn, New York to celebrate with my grandmother Celia Schneider who lived in the Boro Park section of Brooklyn. After the meal, we turned on the television (for my generation a new medium) and watched the Edward R. Murrow broadcast Harvest of Shame.
“These are the forgotten people, the under-protected, the under-educated, the under-clothed, the under-fed.
“We present this report on Thanksgiving because were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials.
“We should like you to meet some of your fellow citizens who harvest the food for the best-fed nation on earth.”
[9 Watching the Morrow “Harvest of Shame” broadcast from my grandmother’s Brooklyn piano bench marked one of the most influential events of my life. In the 1970s, when I was in my 20s, I worked on a newsletter in Washington D.C. on the problems of migrant agricultural workers–workers described in the Morrow broadcast focusing on Belle Glade, Florida, but also visiting the home base and migrant streams and farm-worker bases in the West, the Midwest, and South.
[10. In no small part, the misery Morrow broadcast has converted from rural to urban misery. In 1960, when Edward R. Murrow was broadcasting to an affluent nation , farm workers themselves were in the midst of massive migrations out of rural areas and to large cities such as Detroit. One black tenant farmer in Arkansas told me the migration hit so quickly chickens were left unfed so eager were tenant farmers for the chance at prosperity in Detroit. My friend Phillip Moery, whose family owns a rice farm in Wynne, Arkansas told me of talk in the 1950s and 60s at the family dinner table as rural workers disappeared in mass to Detroit.
11. One reason for the migration was the rapidly developing mechanization of farming, including pesticides and genetically engineered food products replacing the need for labor. (In Belle Glade, Florida, for example, I saw a radish harvester with 16 arms scoop up, bag, and seal bags of radishes once picked by hand.) A second reason for the migration was the need for assembly line workers in cities such as Detroit who received good pay and benefits for work that did not require substantial education.
12)The decline of the Detroit automobile industry, its refusal to innovate during times of massive prosperity was followed by massive unemployment, petroleum price increases, and Japanese and German competition. Detroit is emerging from the largest bankruptcy in the history of U.S. which at one point threatened to sell off the art collection of the Detroit Institute of Art (including a Van Gough self-portrait)
Photo provided courtesy of the Detroit Institute of Arts.
and a combination of massive infusions of funds and savvy concerned citizens will result in a new smaller less powerful city whose future will not be linked to the automobile industry. As a columnist for e-architect, I have been worrying about how to tell the story of Detroit, the most significant U.S. story for architects and builders in the world. My first column on Detroit was entitled, Is Detroit Dying? My current conclusion is there will be a prosperous section of Detroit, a city which has gone from a population 1.4 million to less than 700,000. Yet Detroit will retain large section of aging urban poor; namely, the children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of the rural poor Edward R. Murrow described in 1960. This demographic, many of whom are aging without adequate social services, experienced an all too brief period of prosperity. They live trapped in an African-American downtown ghetto with no place to go. The local public schools are among the worst in the nation. The ability of the young to obtain job skills is questionable at best even, as I expect, Detroit’s economy will improve. The decline of Detroit, as with the decline of so many U.S. population centers, is a consequence of the hubris of the generation who parented the Baby Boomers. These veterans believed winning World War II was enough, convinced we ruled the world, and too proud or insouciant to invest in our domestic future . Our future as a country depends on our ability to learn from the mistakes of the past most significantly the sad lack of understanding that without a decent educational system geared to all age groups in our population our ability to solve our country’s problems will fail. I am an optimist, but I also believe in the power of prayer after providing infrastructure and resources to achieve badly needed productivity.
13) My view is for Detroit itself and the other Detroit’s in America every day is Thanksgiving–appreciation for the abundance we still possess, recognition of our dependence of global workers and their innovation (an American tradition) and a renewed understanding of the work required to alleviate suffering. My special pleading is to alleviate the suffering of the aging Baby Boomers like me, caught in an economic bind because we had to support our parents and our children, were unable to reserve money for retirement and are losing our teeth because adequate dental care is not available. My generation, based on money spent, is the best educated in U.S history. We are not the problem. We are the solution.
May our thanksgiving this year be tempered by humility, by sympathy for those who lack abundance, and by compassion for those in want. As we express appreciation in prayer for our munificent gifts, may we remember that it is more blessed to give than to receive; and may we manifest our remembrance of that precept by generously sharing our bounty with needy people of other nations.
Now, Therefore, I, Harry S. Truman, President of the United States of America, invite the attention of all citizens to the joint resolution of Congress approved December 26, 1941, which designates the fourth Thursday in November of each year as Thanksgiving Day; I proclaim Thursday, November 27, 1947, as a day of national thanksgiving; and I call upon the people of the United States of every faith to consecrate that day to thoughts of gratitude, acts of devotion, and a firm resolve to assist in the efforts being made by religious groups and other bodies to aid the undernourished, the sick, the aged, and all sufferers in war-devastated lands.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the Seal of the United States of America to be affixed.
Done at the City of Washington this 10th day of November in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and forty-seven, and of the Independence of the United States of America the one hundred and seventy-second.
USE OF THE PERIOD
AFTER THE “S” IN
HARRY S. TRUMAN’S NAME
“In recent years the question of whether to use a period after the ‘S’ in Harry S. Truman’s name has become a subject of controversy, especially among editors. The evidence provided by Mr. Truman’s own practice argues strongly for the use of the period. While, as many people do, Mr. Truman often ran the letters in his signature together in a single stroke, the archives of the Harry S. Truman Library have numerous examples of the signature written at various times throughout Mr. Truman’s lifetime where his use of a period after the ‘S’ is very obvious.
“Mr. Truman apparently initiated the ‘period’ controversy in 1962 when, perhaps in jest, he told newspapermen that the period should be omitted. In explanation he said that the ‘S’ did not stand for any name but was a compromise between the names of his grandfathers, Anderson Shipp Truman and Solomon Young. He was later heard to say that the use of the period dated after 1962 as well as before.
“Several widely recognized style manuals provide guidance in favor of using the period. According to The Chicago Manual of Style all initials given with a name should ‘for convenience and consistency’ be followed by a period even if they are not abbreviations of names. The U.S. Government Printing Office Style Manual states that the period should be used after the ‘S’ in Harry S. Truman’s name.
“Most published works using the name Harry S. Truman employ the period. Authors choosing to omit the period in their texts must still use it when citing the names of organizations that employ the period in their legal titles (e.g. Harry S. Truman Library) thus seeming to contradict themselves. Authoritative publications produced by the Government Printing Office consistently use the period in Mr. Truman’s name, notably the Department of State’s documentary series Foreign Relations of the United States, Diplomatic Papers, the Department of the Army’s United States Army in World War II and two major publications of the Office of the Federal Register, Public Papers of the President – Harry S. Truman and theUnited States Government Organization Manual.
Saying grace before carving the turkey at Thanksgiving dinner in the home of Earle Landis in Neffsville, Pennsylvania, 1941, Marjory Collins, photographer for Farm Security Administration. – Photo by Marjory Collins. Farm Security Administration – Office of War Information Photograph Collection (Library of Congress}. During the 1930s and 1940s some of the greatest photographs were taken for USDA’s Farm Security Administration.
Below the proclamation is a myth-breaking explanation from President Truman’s official library on the use of the period after President Truman’s middle name. At least one of my readers will take umbrage at the use of the period in the proclamation: library documentation may prove satisfactory. Nevertheless, President Truman has only himself to blame: “Mr. Truman apparently initiated the ‘period’ controversy in 1962 when, perhaps in jest, he told newspaper men that the period should be omitted. In explanation he said that the ‘S’ did not stand for any name but was a compromise between the names of his grandfathers,”]
Relevant material copyrighted by Joel Solkoff, 2014. All rights reserved.
BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA: A PROCLAMATION
Thanksgiving Day invites us to reflect on the blessings we enjoy and the freedoms we cherish. As we gather with family and friends to take part in this uniquely American celebration, we give thanks for the extraordinary opportunities we have in a Nation of limitless possibilities, and we pay tribute to all those who defend our Union as members of our Armed Forces. This holiday reminds us to show compassion and concern for people we have never met and deep gratitude toward those who have sacrificed to help build the most prosperous Nation on earth. These traditions honor the rich history of our country and hold us together as one American family, no matter who we are or where we come from.
Nearly 400 years ago, a group of Pilgrims left their homeland and sailed across an ocean in pursuit of liberty and prosperity. With the friendship and kindness of the Wampanoag people, they learned to harvest the rich bounty of a new world.
Together, they shared a successful crop, celebrating bonds of community during a time of great hardship. Through times of war and of peace, the example of a Native tribe who extended a hand to a new people has endured. During the American Revolution and the Civil War, days of thanksgiving drew Americans together in prayer and in the spirit that guides us to better days, and in each year since, our Nation has paused to show our gratitude for our families, communities, and country.
With God’s grace, this holiday season we carry forward the legacy of our forebears. In the company of our loved ones, we give thanks for the people we care about and the joy we share, and we remember those who are less fortunate. At shelters and soup kitchens, Americans give meaning to the simple truth that binds us together: we are our brother’s and our sister’s keepers. We remember how a determined people set out for a better world — how through faith and the charity of others, they forged a new life built on freedom and opportunity.
The spirit of Thanksgiving is universal. It is found in small moments between strangers, reunions shared with friends and loved ones, and in quiet prayers for others. Within the heart of America’s promise burns the inextinguishable belief that together we can advance our common prosperity — that we can build a more hopeful, more just, and more unified Nation. This Thanksgiving, let us recall the values that unite our diverse country, and let us resolve to strengthen these lasting ties.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 27, 2014, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together — whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors — and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-sixth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand fourteen, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-ninth.
President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s 1933 proclamation declaring Thanksgiving a national holiday.
By the President of the United States of America A Proclamation
I, Franklin D. Roosevelt, President of the United States of America, do set aside and appoint Thursday, the thirtieth day of November, 1933, to be a Day of Thanksgiving for all our people.
May we on that day in our churches and in our homes give humble thanks for the blessings bestowed upon us during the year past by Almighty God.
May we recall the courage of those who settled a wilderness, the vision of those who founded the Nation, the steadfastness of those who in every succeeding generation have fought to keep pure the ideal of equality of opportunity and hold clear the goal of mutual help in time of prosperity as in time of adversity.
May we ask guidance in more surely learning the ancient truth that greed and selfishness and striving for undue riches can never bring lasting happiness or good to the individual or to his neighbors.
May we be grateful for the passing of dark days; for the new spirit of dependence one on another; for the closer unity of all parts of our wide land; for the greater friendship between employers and those who toil; for a clearer knowledge by all Nations that we seek no conquests and ask only honorable engagements by all peoples to respect the lands and rights of their neighbors; for the brighter day to which we can win through by seeking the help of God in a more unselfish striving for the common bettering of mankind.
In Witness Whereof, I have hereunto set my hand and caused the seal of the United States to be affixed.
Premature Publication Excuse: An-as-yet incomplete posting explaining the meaning of life
It is taking me a while to achieve completion because I am writing for readers who may not have heard about Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney.
One problem, of course, is if I were Tyrone Power and Gene Tierney was trying to seduce me so I do not go off to India to find the meaning of life, would I have the spiritual courage to say NO?
I am goaded into publishing this post prematurely due to the kind permission of Mary Reilly Nichols, a prominent yoga teacher and spiritualist based in New York City to discuss her spiritual experiences..
“I have been teaching Yoga since 1982, upon completing a five-year stint of ashram life under the auspices of my Guru, Swami Muktananda.
“We didn’t really practice Hatha Yoga in his ashram as a discrete activity. All the branches of yoga were unfolding at all times, so that is the way I teach Hatha: as inseparable from all the other branches of yoga.
“If you sever a branch from the vine, the branch withers. Hatha must be connected to its root, or it is merely acrobatics. Yet it is a foundation for liberation when aligned with understanding.”
The central character in the most significant book in my life (The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham) achieves his understanding of the meaning of life at an ashram in India where he has an out-of-body experience.
Tyrone Power played the central character in the 1946 film version of Maugham’s 1944 novel. Although he died at age 44 in 1958, his fame was so enduring that his photographic appears on The Beatles’ iconic 1967 album cover for St. Pepper’s Lonely Heart’s Club Band. Tyrone Power is so perfectly cast in the 1946 version of the movie that although Maugham named his main character: Larry Darrell, I automatically think Tyrone Power.
I find that this cinematic accomplishment helps add validity to Tyrone Power’s out-of-body experiences.
Nichols has an extensive section on her site describing her out-of-body experiences including those that preceding meeting her guru in India. Nichols, a graduate of Harvard University, had her first out-of-body experiences as an undergraduate.
“It was the spring of my junior year in college and i was writing my junior thesis, a major term paper, for the anthropology department. I had chosen as a topic the ecstatic religious cults of New Guinea.
“It was about how ecstatic religious movements function to help people adapt to conditions of extreme social stress. Visionary religious experience, arising from the unconscious, transforms the deep psycho social programming of human beings undergoing major anxiety and stress.
“The strain can result from culture contact, especially with a technologically superior culture. But any radical change of environmental or social conditions can render traditional cultural categories irrelevant and unproductive, which is extremely stressful.
“The whole process of writing this paper had been unusually energizing and compelling. I was so excited by the material, and wanted nothing else but to read and write about it.
“One evening i sat at my desk writing, listening to the street music wafting up from the streets of Cambridge. The not terribly brilliant thought occurred:
“Doesn’t my own contemporary Western culture qualify as a society who’s traditions are breaking down due to rapid change? We must be ripe for ecstatic religious renewal.
“At that moment there was an explosion of energy at the base of my spine, energy which wriggled upward with the gushing power of a fire hose to the crown of my head.
“The whole room turned into dazzling white light, myself included. The light spoke clearly to me: ‘A great Being is in a body in your lifetime, and you will recognize him.’ The light conveyed some other knowledge as well.
“After regaining a sense of my physical body, I ran out of there, afraid. Only later would I understand that I had had a classic kundalini awakening, and learn that Kundalini Shakti, subtle energy normally dormant at the base of the spine, rises to the crown center through yogic processes producing states of super consciousness.”
Not yet prepared to describe my own spiritual experiences that led to a life-altering event when I discussed The Razor’s Edge with my grandmother at age 16, I asked Nichols for permission to cite her account. She granted permission with the cautionary note:
“I have found that reporting those experiences sometimes results in very angry feedback, so share at your own risk! “
Mindful of Nichols’ warning, the rest of this post-in-progress represents my summoning up courage to explain my notion of The Meaning of Life.
I will let you know if I complete it earlier given that I am worried about the fate of the Detroit’s Institute of the Arts as a consequences of Detroit’s bankruptcy, the largest of any city in U.S. history.
Lengthy preparation prior to getting the point (not yet included)
Note 1: It is customary for fastidious movie goers and book readers (who may stray to this site) to be warned that (despite my assertions it does not matter) the following posting is so filled with spoilers it might be prudent to stop reading now.
Note 2: For the rest of you, who actually belong here, I am preparing for Thanksgiving by discussing the most influential film in my life The Razor’s Edge starring Tyrone Power shown here and released 68 years ago—one year before I was born.
Rarely, does Tyrone Power wear a tuxedo in the movie. He stars as Larry Darrell, a man searching for the meaning of life which he finds dressed in second-hand clothes in a cabin high up in the Himalayan Mountains.
Maugham writes about Darrell, “[I]t may be that the way of life that he has chosen for himself and the peculiar strength and sweetness of his character may have an ever-growing influence over his fellow-men so that, long after his death perhaps, it may be realized that there lived in this age a very remarkable creature.”
This preparation for Thanksgiving includes a discussion I had with my grandmother Celia Schneider when I was 16 about Somerset Maugham’s novel upon which the movie is closely based.
My grandmother Celia Schneider is shown here right in an early 1940s photo. Celia is standing next to her daughter Miriam Pell, years before she met my father. As a child, Celia was the most stable adult influence on my life. Her favorite book was W. Somerset Maugham’s 1944 novel The Razor’s Edge.
Mother engraved a quotation from The Razor’s Edge on my grandmother’s tombstone.
The book title (which the author reproduces as an epigraph) comes from a verse from the Katha-Upanishad:
“The sharp edge of a razor is difficult to pass over; thus the wise say the path to Salvation is hard.”
The Katha-Upanishad is a Hindu treatise probably composed after the fifth century BC and it contains passages that suggest contact with Buddhist ideas. I am not sure I agree with the concept that the path to Salvation is hard. [What do you think?]
Talking to my grandmother about life’s meaning changed my life. Discussing this subject seems a useful way to get ready for Thanksgiving.
The book and the film are so closely tied together in my mind, especially the superb casting of the three main characters that I often think about the two separate genres as if they were one.
This is a wonderful movie—a way to getting Thanksgiving rolling toward meaning while providing fun for everyone.
While you have yet to meet the heroine, much fun involves snickering at the third of the main characters Clifton Webb who plays the role of a diverting snob.
Maugham writes of Elliott Templeton, Webb’s character (to whom I shall return as the story does) to effectively lighten up the story’s serious Main Purpose.
“The Paris season was drawing to a close and all the best people were arranging to go to watering places or to Deauville before repairing for the rest of the summer to their ancestral châteaux in Touraine, Anjou, or Brittany. Ordinarily Elliott went to London at the end of June, but his family feeling was strong and his affection for his sister and Isabelle sincere; he had been quite ready to sacrifice himself and remain in Paris, if they wished it, when no one who was anyone was there, but he found himself now in the agreeable situation of being able to do what was best for others and at the same time what was convenient for himself.”
Parsimonious accolade: I only give the movie four stars instead of five because:
The music is dreadful. Every time something significant happens, a violin plays or two or three or the entire orchestra.
The key spiritual moment is explained away as being caused by God rather than as Maugham described it by a generic spiritual power. (Before discussing this at the dinner table, please pass the cranberry sauce.) [More on God. Before Larry has his defining moment with an Indian guru, Maugham describes a conversation he had concerning God with Isabel Bradley (played by Gene Tierney). The conversation eventually will appear below, following another photograph of Gene Tierney “Acclaimed,” Wikipedia writes, “as a great beauty.”
The Plot (as yet incomplete)
W. Somerset Maugham’s begins The Razor’s Edge by denying the book is a novel.
“If I call it a novel it is because I do not know what else to call it…I have invented nothing.” Maugham invented quite a lot .
Note: Last month, I celebrated my 67th birthday. Increasingly, I find myself eager to communicate with women and men in their 20s and 30s—the age of my two daughters Joanna and Amelia.
One reason I am eager to communication with this specific demographic is because I live half a block away from Webster’s Bookstore and Café where recent friends include the baristas and non-baristas who serve me coffee and organic salads, sell me books, and sit with me and talk about books and life.
Two years ago, Tom Connolly, a musician who is currently playing in a rock band in Philadelphia, shared Thanksgiving with me at my apartment with a mutual friend .While I made turkey (Tom helped), he set up a drum and cymbal set which I later played with great delight.
My mother Miriam told me [when I was a freshman at Druid Hills High School in Decatur, Georgia in 1961] of her attempt to convince her Aunt Marcia (Tanta Masha) to have a Thanksgiving celebration in 1933 when my mother was eight years old.
Tanta Masha, married to Sol Demick [a sweet, bald man who worked at a delicatessen] and my grandmother Suschi Schneider’s older sister, ran my mother’s household in The Bronx (of course, of New York City) with an iron hand.
Tanta Masha and my mother did not get along, “Probably,” my mother said, “because we were so much alike.”
Why my mother and grandmother (whom I called Bubbie) lived with Sol and Marcia Demick and their two sons Norman and Alvin (Vremmy) is a story for another occasion. My mother said that in 1933, when Franklin D. Roosevelt became president, Thanksgiving [first established as a national holiday by Abraham Lincoln’s executive order] was not universally celebrated the way it is today.
In fact, my mother said, FDR (whom my mother adored) was responsible for Thanksgiving’s widespread celebration (probably at the suggestion of FDR’s political adviser then Postmaster General James A. Farley) as a way of including the immigrant community into the lumpy American melting pot (and not incidentally securing their vote.)
So taken with FDR’s appeal to celebrate Thanksgiving, my always precocious and astonishingly serious (and beautiful) mother appealed to Tanta Masha to celebrate the holiday complete with turkey and Norman Rockwell-like trimmings.
[Note: Yes, I am aware that Norman Rockwell’s iconographic Freedom from Wantpainting first appeared on the cover of The Saturday Evening Post in 1943.]
Mother explained that for Tanta Masha, Thanksgiving complete with turkey and cranberry sauce [hint: cranberries will later take on great significance in my life] meant a great deal of unwanted work and expense she and the family could ill afford. [When my grandmother talked about poverty—and indeed when my father did—they spoke with an understanding of pain they could never express successfully in words but the pain came through clearly and on the mark like the early promises of digital sound and flat screen high-definition television.)
“With Tanta Masha, everything was a power struggle,” Mother explained. Then weeping unexpectedly, Mother described how Tanta Masha had outmaneuvered my mother—bitterly angry that Mother’s goal to become a good American had (as she explained it) been stolen from her by an unfair trick.
Tanta Masha asked her sons Norman [who died unexpectedly this year] and Vremmy [about whom more needs to be said than can fit neatly into this section] (Mother’s cousins were really more like brothers than cousins), “How would you like to celebrate Thanksgiving with hot dogs and baked beans?” My mother’s dream of patriotic desire had been robbed from her by what she conceived of as a mean parlor trick.
In the long run though, Mother prevailed (as she always prevailed when something Important was at stake). And so, for me Thanksgiving evolved into the holiday of the year—significant in a way I will try to define, but whose root structure now clearly runs deeply into the ground holding generations fixed in place.
Thanksgiving has become the holiday that defines me as a person, as a father, as a family man, as a citizen in ways no other holiday can. What makes this definition especially auspicious this year (a year of enormous change in my life)….[Let us wait and see what happens next after I have completed cleaning out the oven and stuffing the fresh turkey that is now in the refrigerator.]
This photograph taken in 1990 is especially significant.
The photograph shows some of the people I love most in life. The six-year-old girl, front row left, is my elder daughter Joanna Marie, now 28 and engaged to be married.
The infant, back row right, is Amelia Altalena, my 22 year-old daughter who graduated from college in May.
The grinning young woman, back row middle, is my sister Sarah Schmerler.
The woman seated is my grandmother Celia Pell, my Bubbie, shown here in celebration for the last time outside the Jewish Home for the Aged in Riverdale where by some miracle my mother Miriam Pell Schmerler top left was able to obtain for Bubbie a private room at the most beautiful home for the aged in the universe–a room overlooking the Hudson River and the George Washington Bridge where there is a collection of art so wonderful it will knock your socks off. Especially notable is the fact that I am shown, holding Amelia in my arms, and I was then able to walk. Four years after this photograph was taken I became a paraplegic. At the time I was merely a procrastinator–a vice sadly that continues to this day.
The photograph was taken in my mother’s apartment in Inwood, a neighborhood at the northern tip of Manhattan Island. At the time my mother, a Hebrew educator, was a newly enrolled graduate student–then 65 years-old–at the Jewish Theological Seminary where she later received a doctorate in Hebrew letters after completion of her thesis on the Roman Catholic Church’s significant decision to change its theological doctrine so that today the Jewish people are no longer blamed for the death of Jesus Christ.
In my mind’s eye, I think of this photograph as being taken at Thanksgiving. But by November of 1990, my former wife Diana, my two daughters, and I had relocated from Washington DC, where I lived and worked for 17 years–many of them heavily influenced by Edward R. Murrow’s Thanksgiving Day broadcast “Harvest of Shame” which I had viewed in my grandmother’s Brooklyn apartment and which changed my life (as if I were on the road to Damascus). In November of 1990, we relocated to Durham, NC where I began a new career as a senior technical writer for Northern Telecom–a career that I loved.
Not shown in this photograph is my favorite (and only) nephew Asher Benvenuto Simonson, now 11, who was not yet a gleam in his father Robert Simonson’s eye.
What compelled me to write this Thanksgiving posting is one consequence of this month’s Hurricane Sandy. This posting begins with my mother’s attempt to have a real Thanksgiving overruled, among others, by her brother-like cousin Vremmy (a nickname from the Yiddish name Abraham Meyer), one of the most influential people in my life, publisher of Arts Magazine, who arranged for publication in The Washington Post of an advertisement for my book Learning to Live Again, an advertisement which appeared in the book review section with a photograph of Joanna, then one, and me.
Vremmy died shortly after the advertisement was published leaving his widow Theresa Demick, an elegant and cultured delight in my life and that of my family. Theresa, one of the victims of Hurricane Sandy, was on the 16th floor of her apartment building when the storm hit wiping out the electricity.
Somehow, Theresa managed to get to the street where she wandered around aimlessly, taken to the emergency room of a nearby hospital, diagnosed with dementia. Now, thanks to the efforts of my sister Sarah, my brother-in-law Robert, and others, Theresa has found a safe berth at the wonderful Jewish Home for the Aged in Riverdale–the wonderful wonderful place where my grandmother lived out her final years with pleasure and respect. Although Theresa suffers, her knowledge of art remains in tact and Sarah feels confident that Theresa will be able to work with the home’s magnificent collection–Theresa safe from harm.
Not shown in the photograph is my sterling prospective son-in-law Jade Kosmos Phillips because Joanna did not meet him until 22 years later when they met while Joanna was working as an ambulance driver–the romance beginning in typical Joanna fashion when she insulted Jade who is a firefighter/paramedic.
The photographer is my now former wife Diana who blessedly drove up from Durham to New York with Joanna earlier this week to comfort Theresa–which should serve to reassure Amelia who also was close to Theresa and who is celebrating Thanksgiving in rural Spain near the Portuguese border, where she is teaching English.
Tom Connolly, my drumming teacher and friend just arrived and we will now celebrate Thanksgiving, cooking and playing the drums. Tom has invited beautiful women over who are younger than Amelia but who, if they come, I will flirt with shamelessly as I have in the past. After celebrating, making music, and flirting, I will return to you to post my Thanksgiving letter of thanksgiving (or wait for a more auspicious occasion when I have completed work interrupted by an intense case of the flu which has caused me to feel as if I live on another planet).
On Thanksgiving Day, Americans everywhere gather with family and friends to recount the joys and blessings of the past year. This day is a time to take stock of the fortune we have known and the kindnesses we have shared, grateful for the God-given bounty that enriches our lives. As many pause to lend a hand to those in need, we are also reminded of the indelible spirit of compassion and mutual responsibility that has distinguished our Nation since its earliest days.
Many Thanksgivings have offered opportunities to celebrate community during times of hardship. When the Pilgrims at Plymouth Colony gave thanks for a bountiful harvest nearly four centuries ago, they enjoyed the fruits of their labor with the Wampanoag tribe — a people who had shared vital knowledge of the land in the difficult months before. When President George Washington marked our democracy’s first Thanksgiving, he prayed to our Creator for peace, union, and plenty through the trials that would surely come. And when our Nation was torn by bitterness and civil war, President Abraham Lincoln reminded us that we were, at heart, one Nation, sharing a bond as Americans that could bend but would not break. Those expressions of unity still echo today, whether in the contributions that generations of Native Americans have made to our country, the Union our forebears fought so hard to preserve, or the providence that draws our families together this season.
As we reflect on our proud heritage, let us also give thanks to those who honor it by giving back. This Thanksgiving, thousands of our men and women in uniform will sit down for a meal far from their loved ones and the comforts of home. We honor their service and sacrifice. We also show our appreciation to Americans who are serving in their communities, ensuring their neighbors have a hot meal and a place to stay. Their actions reflect our age-old belief that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, and they affirm once more that we are a people who draw our deepest strength not from might or wealth, but from our bonds to each other.
On Thanksgiving Day, individuals from all walks of life come together to celebrate this most American tradition, grateful for the blessings of family, community, and country. Let us spend this day by lifting up those we love, mindful of the grace bestowed upon us by God and by all who have made our lives richer with their presence.
NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim Thursday, November 22, 2012, as a National Day of Thanksgiving. I encourage the people of the United States to join together — whether in our homes, places of worship, community centers, or any place of fellowship for friends and neighbors — and give thanks for all we have received in the past year, express appreciation to those whose lives enrich our own, and share our bounty with others.
IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twentieth day of November, in the year of our Lord two thousand twelve, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-seventh.
Click on Memoto hear the After Pumpkin Pie Trio perform: “Thanks. Giving.”
The spirit of Jack Kerouac (as photographed by Tom Palumbo) returns with our song to wish us all a free-spirited conclusion to Thanksgiving Day, 2012. Kerouac is my daughter Joanna‘s favorite author as she takes an after dinner drink in Durham, N.C. before returning to her nursing school studies. For daughter Amelia Altalena, where her computer is broken in rural Spain, it is now 3:18 tomorrow morning; celebration must wait for Skype repair as all my dear readers for whom I am thankful, will await the writing of the forthcoming Thanksgiving Letter.
Afterthought. The idea that I was able to celebrate Thanksgiving appropriately–including, of course, a prayer of thanksgiving–comes as a surprise now that my guests have left. Tom, whom I met at Webster’s Bookstore and Cafe, across the street from my apartment, is relocating to Philadelphia to pursue a music career. State College, sadly, has not yet developed the resources to support musicians serious about their work. The idea of getting together was a spontaneous thought Tom had earlier this week.
Katie’s presence surprised both Tom and me. She was in town visiting friends. Tom was sure she would not come–not recollecting clearly that he had invited her. Neither Tom nor Katie could remember how they knew each other–perhaps through a mutual musical connection. As I helped Tom load his many drums in the car, where Katie accepted Tom’s offer to drive her to her friend’s apartment, I told Katie I do not understand how she arrived here; it is almost as if she never existed at all, but she certainly quickly warmed to the spirit of the occasion, banging drums with enthusiasm. Childlike percussion noise-making now goes on my list of Thanksgiving rituals.
I end this posting for tonight with the words I first heard Edward R. Murrow broadcast on television after Thanksgiving dinner in 1960 (words I recall each Thanksgiving):
“This is CBS Reports Harvest of Shame. It has to do with the men, women, and children who harvest the crops in this country of ours, the best-fed nation on earth. These are the forgotten people, the under-protected, the under-educated, the under-clothed, the under-fed. We present this report on Thanksgiving because were it not for the labor of the people you are going to meet, you might not starve, but your table would not be laden with the luxuries that we have all come to regard as essentials. We should like you to meet some of your fellow citizens who harvest the food for the best-fed nation on earth.”
These are the words that inspired me to publish a book on agriculture policy. These are words that cause me concern in the all-too close seasons and months ahead as I view with alarm the world’s adverse weather conditions, short supplies of soybeans and grain, astonishingly high future prices, and by calendar year 2013, a world where people will starve (not because, as has been the case for decades, they do not have enough money to afford food), because there will not be enough food to feed the world’s population.
Yes, automation and other developments have changed the visual portrayal that came to my grandmother’s living room television in 1960. In this global economy, the men, women, and children who harvest our food may not be U.S. citizens or they may not be harvesting in the United States the food we have on our Thanksgiving table.
In Spain, where my younger daughter is currently teaching English, the agricultural attaché at the U.S. embassy in Madrid told me that organic vegetables are a major agricultural export from Spain to the United States.