It’s like falling in love. The magic can’t last.

Autumn is sneaky. Although I’m always on the lookout for it, always primed for it, it bursts into its ephemeral majesty so quickly that I’m always startled by it, too. A tree that I remember as green from yesterday’s walk is crimson today. A tree that I don’t remember at all has taken up residence on some tantalizing band of the color spectrum between orange and pink. My eyes widen and my heart swells — it’s like falling in love. It has that same seed of sadness, that same prickle of death. The magic can’t last.

I’ve lived in places where there’s little change in seasons, where the mercury moseys slightly upward or subtly downward but the landscape doesn’t refashion itself. There’s an argument for such modesty. It doesn’t demand as varied a wardrobe.

And to have the kind of autumn that I savor here in North Carolina means to be plunged into a winter with just enough cold on the worst days to test your mettle, to denude those trees and turn them skeletal. I have neighbors behind me whose house I can barely make out in July. In January, though, I can almost watch the football games on the big-screen television in their lavishly windowed great room.

But that’s January. This is early November, when the leaves that haven’t yet lost their grip are making a brilliant statement, taking a final bow. Autumn in places that have a real autumn teaches you to live in the moment, to open yourself to the world around you, to pay homage, to pay heed. Fail that lesson and you just might miss the whole spectacle, which can retreat as suddenly and stealthily as it arrives. You’re left with regret. It’s a sorry cousin to remembrance.

— Frank Bruni, from “On a Personal Note” (NY Times, November 3, 2022)


Photo by DK @ Daybreak. 59° F. 6:30 to 6:50 am. November 1, 2022. Cove Island Park, Stamford, CT. More photos from Tuesday morning’s walk here.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

He points to those with hidden symptoms in a chapter reflecting on the deaths of Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and Alan Krueger. There is mental and physical agony in this life, and Bruni does not judge anyone’s decisions; rather, he grieves the losses and appreciates the grace. There is virtue in stoicism, but there is also danger in what strong people can hide. His own situation has made him even more keen to understand the other whose public face contradicts a private suffering. He proposes that each person should have a sandwich board listing her pain and how she adapts: “Imagine that our hardships, our hurdles, our demons, our pain were spelled out for everyone around us to see.” Bruni’s sandwich board would read: “Eyesight compromised, could go blind.”

You ask, why announce your troubles? Doesn’t everyone have something? “Well, yes. Tell us anyway,” I think Bruni would reply. Maybe if we knew, we might slow down, turn and fumble toward each other. Perhaps, then I could say that you’re not alone, and I’m rooting for you, because I am.

— Min Jin Lee, in her book review  of Frank Bruni’s “The Beauty of Dusk: On Vision Lost and Found” titled “Eyesight Compromised. Could Go Blind.” (NY Times Book Review, Feb 28, 2022). Bruni had a rare stroke several years ago which damaged his optic nerve and severely impaired his eyesight. Read more here.

Monday Morning Wake-Up Call

But these readers see another, different kind of vulnerability. Oprah Winfrey does, too, as I learned this week. On her Oprah Daily website, she has begun doing a series of “The Life You Want” classes, and she invited me to join her for one on Tuesday night to discuss my new book, “The Beauty of Dusk.” (The Times ran this excerpt last week.)

I’ll admit to being wowed simply that an advance copy had found its way into her hands, let alone that she’d read and wanted to talk about it. She specifically wanted to discuss its portrait of vulnerability and my description of my compromised and imperiled eyesight not as a diminution but as an education. She wanted to ponder vulnerability as a means of connection, a bridge.

And that is, indeed, how I tend and try to see it. To be vulnerable is to be more alert and ideally more sensitive to what’s going on around you. To be vulnerable is to let others in, and there’s promise as well as peril in that. To admit to vulnerability is to own up to being human. You show me someone who’s alive; I’ll show you someone who’s vulnerable.

There are days, sure, when my vulnerability feels like powerlessness and I tremble inside. There are quite a number of them, and that’s not about my eyesight but about a thousand other things — about the evanescence of pleasures that I so wish I could hold on to, about the inconstancy of people whom I’d prefer to depend on, about my own failure to keep some of the promises that I’ve explicitly or implicitly made, about the limits of my energy, which once seemed boundless.

I’m vulnerable to great disappointment. But that goes hand in hand with being open to great joy.

— Frank Bruni, from “Putin Is Teaching Us a Brutal Lesson About History” (NY Times, February 24, 2022).  Bruni had a rare stroke several years ago which damaged his optic nerve and severely impaired his eyesight. Read more here.

Not a sad story. A sob story.

When he was 4 his mother found him in the kitchen with a knife. He was summoning the nerve to slice off his own fingers. This wasn’t because he was crazy but because he was all too sane and understood correctly that the dysfunctional appendages dangling from his misshapen left hand were the source of his physical agony. He wanted relief… She stopped but also heeded him, and the very next day she scheduled the operation that she had known he might need. There was no avoiding it anymore. The surgeon cut near the wrist, amputating everything below, and soon the boy returned home to figure out the rest of his life.

He declined to dwell on the cause of his defect: amniotic band syndrome, by which fibrous strands of the amniotic sac wrap around a portion of the developing fetus, strangling development. He focused instead on his response…He did that by changing exactly nothing about his dreams. He wanted to play football and so he played football, just like his twin brother, except not just like his twin brother, because his brother had an extra tool — an extra hand — that he didn’t. No matter. He compensated. He adjusted. What he lacked in reach and grip he made up for in grit and speed.

He impressed many people. He repelled some. When he was 8 the coach of a rival team tried to keep him off the field, first claiming that he had weighed in too heavy for the game and then admitting a different reason. Football, he told the boy, was for people with two hands.

“Like I was defective or something,” the boy later recalled. “Like I didn’t belong. And that was the moment I realized I was always going to have to prove people wrong.”

That’s Shaquem Griffin’s story, and it’s a gorgeous, inspiring one when we very much need it. In this rancorous country, we’re buffeted more than usual by reminders of humanity at its worst. Griffin is a glimpse of us at our best — of our ability to reframe hardship as challenge, tap extraordinary reserves of determination and achieve not just success but grace.

He kept playing, and grew into a high school football star in Florida. Kept playing, and became a starting linebacker for the University of Central Florida. Minus one hand, he intercepted balls. Minus one hand, he recovered fumbles. It was something to see, and pro scouts saw it. He was drafted to play linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks this season.

“It’s not some sob story or anything like that,” Griffin wrote in an essay in The Players’ Tribune in March — the same essay where he remembered being treated as “defective.” “It’s not even a sad story — at least not to me. It’s just my story.” …

He was recently chosen by Nike…for its Just Do It campaign. He appears in the campaign’s glorious “Dream Crazy” commercial…

If that doesn’t move you, how about this? That twin of his, Shaquill, refused to go to any college that didn’t also want his brother as part of a package deal. They attended U.C.F. together. They hate being apart, and they aren’t. Shaquill was also drafted by the Seahawks, to play cornerback…

Citizens of that nation showed up for the Denver game to watch Griffin’s big N.F.L. debut. An article by Robert Klemko in Sports Illustrated noted how visibly emotional they were and how they swarmed Griffin’s mother, a nurse, who was there, beaming, on the sidelines.

Klemko contemplated Griffin’s swelling ranks of fans and the games to come, predicting: “They won’t just be amputees, the ones who weep. They’ll be mothers and fathers. And nurses too.”

And me. I agree with Griffin: This isn’t a sad story. But it’s most definitely a sob story.

~  Frank Bruni, from The Amputee Who Showed EveryoneShaquem Griffin of the Seattle Seahawks lost his hand but not his dream. (NY Times, September 18, 2018)


Thank you Susan

There’s right and wrong, not just better or worse.

Raising-the-bar-1

Frank Bruni in the NY Times writesWeary of Relativity:

“SAY anything critical about a person or an organization and brace for this pushback: At least he, she or it isn’t as bad as someone or something else.

[…]

Set the bar low enough and all blame is deflected, all shame expunged. Choose the right points of reference and behold the alchemy: naughty deeds into humdrum conformity. Excess into restraint. Sinners into saints.

[…]

Like I said, you can set the bar anywhere you want.

And you can justify almost anything by pointing fingers at people who are acting likewise or less nobly.

[…]

Everything’s relative.

Except it’s not.

There are standards to which government, religion and higher education should be held. There are examples that politicians and principled businesspeople should endeavor to set, regardless of whether their peers are making that effort. There’s right and wrong, not just better or worse.

And there’s a word for recognizing and rising to that: leadership. We could use more of it.”

Don’t miss Bruni’s entire Op-Ed essay: Weary of Relativity


Image Credit

Gray Hair and Silver Linings

long grey hair, woman

70 is the new 60.
60 is the new 50.
50 is the new 40.

Right.

These two NY Times Op-Ed pieces are beautifully written where ever you land with your math. I’ve chosen 2 excerpts. Be sure to click through to the full stories.

Frank Bruni turns 50 and writes Gray Hair and Silver Linings:

[…] There’s a point at which you have to accept that certain hopes and dreams won’t be realized, and 50 sure feels like it. I mean the lost margin for error. When you’re in your 20s and even your 30s, you can waste months, squander love, say yes to all the wrong things and no to all the right ones. And you can still recover, because there are many more months and loves and crossroads to come. The mistakes of youth are an education. The mistakes later on are just a shame. And I mean the lost people most of all: the ones from whom you’re separated by unmovable circumstances; the ones who’ve died. By 50 you start to see the pace of these disappearances accelerating. It’s haunting, and even harrowing. But there’s something else that you start to notice, something that muffles all of that, a muscle that grows stronger, not weaker. More than before, you’re able to find the good in the bad. You start to master perspective, realizing that with a shift in it — an adjustment of attitude, a reorientation of expectations — what’s bothersome can evaporate and what only seems to be urgent really isn’t…

Emily Fox Gordon, 66, with The Meaning of Fulfillment:

AT 66, I find myself feeling fulfilled. I didn’t expect this, and don’t know quite what to make of it…Fulfillment is a dubious gift because you receive it only when you’re approaching the end. You can’t consider your life fulfilled until you’re fairly sure of its temporal shape, and you can’t get a view of that until you’re well past its midpoint  […]  At any rate, by now I’ve racked up enough achievements that I feel I can stop trying. Paradoxically, of course, I find I don’t want to stop. Now that not much is at stake, I’m more ambitious than ever, or at least more conscious of my ambition. Liberated from an anxiety I’ve struggled to suppress, I feel a new energy. What is fulfillment made of? Mostly relief…


Image Source: imgarcade

Swapping motion for stillness. Chatter for calm.

male-solitude-guitar

Frank Bruni, NY Times: A Quiet Cheer For Solitude:

  • …Take more time away. Spend more time alone. Trade the speechifying for solitude, which no longer gets anything close to the veneration it’s due, not just in politics but across many walks of life.
  • It’s in solitude that much of the sharpest thinking is done and many of the best ideas are hatched. We know this intuitively and from experience, yet solitude is often cast as an archaic luxury and indulgent oddity, inferior to a spirited discussion and certainly to a leadership conference…”
  • The calendar of a senior executive or public official is defined by meeting after meeting upon meeting. There’s no comparable premium on solitary pauses, on impregnable periods for contemplation, and a person who insists on them attracts a derogatory vocabulary: loner, loafer, recluse, aloof, eccentric, withdrawn.
  • “We live in the new groupthink — there’s a shared belief that creativity and productivity must be a collaborative experience, and solitude has fallen out of fashion,” Susan Cain, the author of the 2012 best seller “Quiet,” told me. But, she added, “There’s so much research that flies in the face of this.”
  • Cain’s book focuses on introverts, making the case that they have a kind of intellectual advantage. And their edge stems largely from greater amounts of solitude, from the degree to which they’ve swapped motion for stillness, chatter for calm. They’ve carved out space for reflection that’s sustained and deep.
  • This isn’t necessarily a matter of being unplugged, of ditching the hyper-connectedness of our digital lives. It’s a matter of ditching and silencing the crowd…

Read Bruni’s worthy full article here: A Quiet Cheer For Solitude:


  • Photograph: Thank you Brenda @ Space2Live
  • Related Post: I Share @ Tiny Lessons Blog

 

 

She meant slowing things down often classes them up

Frank-Bruni

“My mother was always lavish with advice, little of it original…—“Count to 10 before you speak,” she frequently said, and she meant not just that you can’t take back what’s already been uttered. She meant that pauses are the spaces in which passions cool, civility gets its oxygen, and wisdom quite possibly finds its wings. She meant that slowing things down often classes them up….”

“What would she have made of the social media born long after she died? Of a world in which so many of us, entranced by the opportunity for instant expression and an immediate audience, post unformed thoughts, half-baked wit or splenetic reactions before we can even count to three?…I’m talking about a revved-up metabolism and roughened-up manners…That happens in part because the exchanges are disembodied: We don’t have to face whomever we’re lashing out at. But it’s also because they’re impulsive. Their timbre conforms to their tempo. Both are coarse…”

“Conversely, there was talk this year about the benefits of an activity that’s in some ways the antithesis of texting and tweeting with their rat-tat-tat rhythm. That activity is the reading of fiction. According to some researchers, people who settle into it are more empathetic — more attuned to what those around them think and feel — than people who don’t…” [Read more…]

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