From my journal entry of 8/18/17: “My mother would have been 99 today”.
Perhaps that thought set me to imagining myself talking with people I haven’t spoken with for the past 30 years. This imagined conversation was illusory in at least two ways: its audience is no longer alive; and the self doing the talking was voicing a perspective I didn’t have three decades ago.
I wonder how many people spin these kinds of imaginary dramas. Often in the mornings, when I am reading something in whose depths I am caught up, I lay the book down and am soon roaming through my memory banks, lost in a flowing stream of tumbling associations.
This morning, when I came ashore, I remembered some interventions in my life that changed everything–one even saving my life.
There was the “Middle-aged Miss Marjorie Roberts”, who (according to an October 1944 newspaper article) rescued me from the icy waters of the Saint Lawrence River when I was two. Another neighbor heard her cries for help and found her holding on to the slippery rocks with one hand, and me with the other—exhausted and unable to climb the steep rocks out of the river’s current, which would have swept me away if she had let go for an instant. The article reports that I had to be revived with artificial respiration.
Then there was Eric Grinyer, who came into my life the year I became a teenager, and introduced me to the world stage of ideas, philosophy, and literature—starting with George Santayana, who must be the most poetic and playful of all the thinkers who grapple with what it means to be a human animal on planet Earth; then graduating to George Steiner, consummate literary critic of western literature, who asserted that when the holocaust erupted in the heart of western civilization we lost the right to ever again assert that the Humanities humanize.
Steiner introduced me to Franz Kafka in his “Language and Silence”. In Kafka, I discovered a mind that understood what it is to feel an outsider in the world; and he rendered understandable my own sense of not belonging. Coherent, articulate and adamant–in the midst of his unspeakable alienation from a world that was turning brutal around him– Kafka not only prophesized the holocaust, he helped at least one teenager growing up in a Montreal suburb to better understand and accept his own confusions.
How strange that Eric, who made possible my evolving interest in the world of ideas and who activated in me a desire to strive for integrity, never showed the least interest, or respect for, the eastern teachings that have penetrated the consciousness of many of my peers, like yeast enabling dough to rise.
The extent of the gifts I received from Miss Marjorie and Eric have slowly become clearer. Just as I had to reach a point where I valued my own life before I could appreciate the courage of a woman who pulled me out of the frigid waters of the Saint Lawrence River, I can now appreciate that Eric—after setting me on a path of discovery–did me the favor of not following, thereby obliging me to pursue my own journey without him.