Every Time We Say Goodbye: Savoring the Delicacy of First and Final Encounters

My hosts were right: Bergmannstrasse is a fine choice for solo dining this warm spring evening. I have been in Berlin a few days, inaugurating another month-long trip to Europe. I’m staying with friends of a friend in the relaxed, hip Kreuzberg district, not far from Checkpoint Charlie—the former, grim demarcation between the Western and Soviet segments of this revitalized, thriving city.

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Blood Brothers

The first time I donated blood was August, 1973. I was 14 years old and weighed 100 pounds. I met neither the age nor weight requirement for blood donation. They took it anyway.

The blood clinic was at Long Island Jewish Hospital. My older brother, my only sibling, was a patient in the pediatric unit. The blood was for him.

Mark had been diagnosed with acute lymphoblastic leukemia eight months earlier. With today’s treatments, as many as 90 percent of children survive it . But in the early 1970s, the grim medical consensus was incurable.

That didn’t stop my parents from trying, of course.

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Home Free: Reflections on Nine Years Without a Fixed Address

December 2010, Green River, Vermont. I’m with my friend Craig in his comfortable old farmhouse, nestled in a picture-postcard setting. The kitchen windows look out on the gentle river and a covered wooden bridge. The place screams “Vermont!” like a cheesy advertisement from the Chamber of Commerce. He and I are having a fine visit. I am home.

February 2009, Rishikesh, India. It’s my third stay in four years at the cheap, funky, zero-star Hotel Ishan. I’m in my favorite room, overlooking the bustling Laxman Jhula footbridge that spans the Ganges. The sacred river sparkles below as the noisy jangle of townspeople and pilgrims rises up to my small porch. I love it here. It’s not my country, or my culture, and I’m home. Continue reading

Across the Great Divide: Hiking Over the Hump of the Continent, and Something Else

 I am hiking to the Continental Divide for the first time, and I am excited.

I first learned about this geographic novelty in 1968, in Mrs. Granich’s fifth-grade class, from mimeographed sheets redolent with the smell of fresh ink. On one side of the Divide, all water flows east—spilling and seeping its gradual way into the Atlantic Ocean. On the other, it flows west, rushing or rolling inexorably toward the Pacific. It’s a spiny fulcrum bisecting the Americas, from Alaska to the nether tip of South America. My starting base is an intentional farming community near the sleepy Costa Rican village of Buenos Aires. From here it’s a two-day climb to the Divide, which in this remote region remains an unspoiled, uncharted cloud- and rainforest. Continue reading

Into the Silence: Can I Renounce Speech, and Almost Everything Else, for Three Months?

I’m sitting at a picnic table behind the institutional but stately brick building that houses the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts. It’s the last day of summer, and glorious. Blue sky, the air warm and hinting at humidity, even a tad sultry. I’m staring into a thick forest that skirts the property. I can see the forest’s edge, but not what lies just a bit deeper within.

For the 60-odd people gathered here, it’s not just the end of summer. It’s the last day of many things. Soon we will enter into the protracted agonies, delights, monotony, and strangeness of a long communal silence.              Continue reading