B. A. Midbar

“First, there is no such thing as normal grief. Each grief is notonly original but as much originating as commemorative. Second,grief never resolves. It simply becomes a tributary stream of themighty river of memory which is what gives presence its flavor. “Youth may be intense, but experience twines together more strandsand weaves a more complicated fabric, full of figure and groundreversals. That’s not an accidental figure, either. As we losethose we’ve truly loved, we can identify with the ground. Webecome for ourselves figures who are on the way to the ground. Wemay even find some real ground to stand on. “It’s an adventure in which pain has a leading part to play, notonly as nemesis but as guide. To grieve is not only to read thebook again knowing the ending, but to discover that the book isrewritten as we reread and that it richly repays the work ofrereading not once and for all, but over and over again. Griefmakes links of our losses. “In the intensity of our griefs we are intensely alive. Griefcomplicates us and the complexity points paths beyond what we havebeen. These paths point forward to our loss of ourselves and todegrees of healing renunciation along the way.” Benjamin Aaron Midbar stopped, arresting the torrent of words, witha movement of his whole body that culminated in a lift of hiseyebrows upwards. “What is so often forgotten is that what is helpful to the grievingperson is his grief. Efforts to forestall it, to limit it, even tochannel it, to moderate it are attacks just where the bereavedperson is most sensitive. There is no comfort. Was it real?... read more

Visiting D. V. Oistrin

A Conversation With D. V. Oistrin We talked with D. V. Oistrin in his apartment on Central Park Westoverlooking the park in the seventies. We found Oistrin, for allof his 84 years, vibrant with life. “People want to talk with me about understanding. They think thatsince I am so old, I should understand something. It is anunderstandable wish, I suppose, that someone should understandsomething. I cherished it myself for many years. The first stepin understanding is not to understand. The second step inunderstanding is also not to understand. The third step as well isnot to understand. And so on and so forth. Can we pass to a limitat some point? I’m not sure. “Thirty years ago, even twenty years ago, maybe, I used to thinkthat if you understood something, then you had a degree of controland that that was good. Now, at some level, I’m sure that is trueand all well and good. But there’s another side to it, which isthat when you understand something, then you have been possessed bya certain way of thinking. This way of thinking has control ofyou. You may not even be aware of it. You think you’re exploringwhat you can do with this way of thinking, when actually it’sexploring what it can do with you. It’s very hard to develop acritical attitude towards your own thinking, because you don’t wantsimply to be critically uncritical. This isn’t easy to express or explain. I think a person has to have made a lot of mistakesbefore all this begins to mean something.” We reminded Mr. Oistrin that J. Robert Oppenheimer had describedhim as one of the... read more

The Dump

“I don’t know why it took me so long to do it. When I look back,I realize that I’d been dreaming about it my whole life. I neverliked to take baths. I felt about myself the way other kids feltabout their favorite blankets or their teddy bears. I didn’t thinkthat I smelled right after a bath. I didn’t really know who I was. I guess it was shocking. “I had the thought that, if the big people could do this to me,then they could do anything they wanted. Of course, I had a vividimagination about what they might want to do. I also worried a lotabout going down the drain. Maybe I wanted to go down the drain,because I wanted to see what was down there. Or maybe even then Iwanted to get away from it all. “It’s a basic difference in temperament, I guess. Some people wantto get away with things and others want to get away from things. Would I recommend what I’ve done to anyone else? Not exactly. I’mnot into recommending things. That’s precisely what I’ve beentrying to get away from. But, for a certain kind of person, thismight be something to consider. “I don’t think that I’m the only person in the world like me. Idon’t think that I’m unique at all. When I started having sex, itshocked me that I could do it. I think I was secretly hoping that I’d be impotent so that I wouldn’t have to be bothered. I enjoyedit, but there was terror in it, too. I had a hard time acknowledging the terror. I was too timid to let... read more

The Tao Of Forgetting

On a recent visit to Cleveland we met with Paul Voorhies-Meerschaum, the chairman and chief executive officer of Creative Forgetting Technologies. Voorhies-Meerschaum greeted us in an old warehouse in the flats. In the heyday of steelmaking, it had belonged to Republic Steel. A pudgy, rumpled man in his middle forties, Voorhies-Meerschaum did an eighteen year stint with TRW before leaving to start his own company. He had a reputation as a software and development whiz there. The tag was that he knew what a program wanted to do and how it wanted to do it long before the program had any inkling of its own style and possibilities. “We got this building cheap,” Voorhies-Meerscahum told us. “We got it dirt cheap. We got it because nobody wanted it. This might be the exact center of the rust belt right here. We’ve fixed it up a little bit, but not too much. We like its flavor. Although it doesn’t know it, it has its own kind of wisdom and experience. We’ve got two hundred and fifty people working here and the place is so huge, it’s no trouble fitting them in. “We had a hell of a battle with the city about it, but that was actually fun in its own way. They try so hard to pretend that they don’t need jobs, employers and investments that you wonder if they haven’t convinced themselves. That’s a little scary. They woke up when we told them we’d pay cash for the building and we’d pay the full assessed value on the books. They never expected to get anything. “We’re concerned with... read more

“I’m Already Not Here”

“It was terrifying last night, Aunt Becca. I wouldn’t believe it if I hadn’t seen it with my own eyes. I got up because I heard her. I wondered what she was doing at two o’clock in the morning. I know she hasn’t been sleeping well. She went down the stairs She looked like she was floating in that pale green nightgown. I followed her. I don’t think she knew herself what she was doing. “Maybe she was walking in her sleep. She stopped just in front of the big living room window and looked out over the rhododendron bushes onto the front lawn. I stood behind her watching. The moonlight was shining down on the snow. It was so bright you could see the shadows of the branches of the trees.“Then she turned to go back upstairs. She saw me. Maybe she recognized me. I’m not sure. It wasn’t as if it made any difference that I was her own mother. No, I might have been a stranger on the street, a statue. She would have said what she said to the wall or to a chair if I hadn’t been there. Her voice was so soft it could have been a ghost’s. “‘Look at me,’ she said, not a trace of an expression on her face, ‘I’m already not here.’“When I told Eddie about it, he looked at me like I was nuts. ‘Are you sure it wasn’t a dream?’ he asked me.““‘No, you idiot,’ I was tempted to answer him. ‘I’m not sure it wasn’t a dream. That’s why my blood ran cold. Because I was... read more
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