Thursday, February 28, 2013


My collector’s heart has for some years focused on what are called “found photos.” Somehow separated from their original owners, these photos each tell a story to which no one any longer quite has the key. With or without inscriptions on the back, these photos pose who questions, where questions, when questions, and – usually most elusive – why questions. I have grown used to the elusiveness, gotten to know that peculiar taste of unknowing without any longer particularly needing or even wanting the “real” story told, the identities revealed, the details wrapped up.

This week I “found” something else that had been separated from its original owner. I had been combing and deleting the earliest emails in an online account that I started five years back. Some of the people who wrote the messages archived in this account are no longer in contact. They are no longer entertaining any intention of being in my life. It happens that they each in their own way some time back left me snapshots of a friendship.

I was about to delete one message, and then I stopped to read it again. I was in the presence of a moment of my life that I had forgotten. No one who reads the blog these days knows the writer of the message, and the writer of the message no longer reads the blog. Like a found photo, the message is free to pose for the random reader who questions, where questions, when questions, and those most elusive why questions. Read on only if you do not particularly need or even want the “real” story told, the identities revealed, the details wrapped up.

You will meet a moment in a man’s life. Reverence it. I do.

When I woke on Saturday morning, I found myself in the bathroom, looking in the mirror, saying, “I am hungry.” My hunger was not the type satisfied by a bowl of cereal or a piece of toast – but rather the type of hunger that comes from an awareness of the possibility of things – my life – being different. The thought took me by surprise and I recalled your question, “Are you getting what you need?” It was not, by this point, any great revelation that I have not been getting what I need and have not been getting it for quite some time. What has changed during these past three months is my being able to admit to myself that life as I know it, is not quite working. So, what do I need? What is this hunger that caught my attention at 7:30 last Saturday morning?

I love the thought of “taking one’s life seriously.” I have been pretty good at taking other things seriously – work, faith, friendship, situations that others face and sometimes share with me – but have I taken my own life seriously? Have I placed my own needs – those particular, unglamorous needs that somehow make a difference – in the background, not trusting that they are worth paying attention to?

They were, they are, they will continue to be worth paying attention to. So go my thoughts four years after these words were written.

Wednesday, February 20, 2013

Visiting an Art Museum in Paris

Visiting an art museum in Paris is not like visiting one near where you live.

What you like in the museum near your home, you can safely predict you will see again – if you want to. The question is whether you are the kind of person who wants to see again what you got to see once. The question is whether you discover more the next time you see it – and even more after that. The question is whether something you like in a museum near your home gets to feel more yours with each visit to the museum, with each standing before the painting, with each walking around a statue.

It is frightening to approach a place like the Louvre or the Musée d’Orsay if you know you cannot get there again in a few weeks. So much has to be seen before you exit through those doors. So much about a single masterpiece waits to be noticed and appreciated and absorbed before you move out of that gallery.

It is good to consider what you like to do in a visit to an art museum. Is it fundamentally an outing with a friend, a chance to walk around in the company of someone you enjoy in these settings? Is it a pilgrimage, planned and determined, an approach flavored by some awe and reverence until you stand before particular works, particular artists? Is it a plunge into history, an emotional adventure, a leap into the great conversation that women and men of talent and vision felt their lives could manage to be part of? Or is it simply an acknowledgment of the current cultural scene and its opportunities?

A year ago I had begun to plan a summer visit to Paris. I had gotten to think about what to expect returning once again to that city of my heart.

You go to Paris again because there may be more to what that city is than you ever understood.

You go to Paris because there may be more to you than you have ever understood.

Monday, February 18, 2013


I am doing a lot of thinking about couples these days. I am watching how they act together. I am listening to how they talk about and to one another. I am looking at how they look at one another. I am curious about how they show that they understand the things that mean a lot to the other.

Yes, it is just a few days past Valentine’s Day. For the first time in close to thirty years I did not have someone on whom to lavish the attentions peculiar to the feast. No one to send a text message to before six in the morning. No one to expect flowers and a card from. Three men have sat across from me at different times during these thirty years for some sort of Valentine’s meal. There was no such meal this year.

I have been lucky, though. No denying that.

No denying, either, how my instincts warned me not to be sitting at home the evening of Valentine’s Day this year. I arranged to exchange one of my symphony tickets, and I was back in my favorite section of the first balcony in Symphony Hall on February 14.

By arriving in the hall early, I got settled in time to watch a couple locate their seats in the row directly in front of mine. Two men in their early thirties were wearing what looked like matching black blazers. Each had on a white dress shirt and a tie. They were sharp, each of them, and I daresay they knew it. They probably liked the way they looked together that Valentine’s evening, but the pleasure had little to do with anyone else’s noticing. Their demeanor said – but only to the other – “We’re doing pretty good, aren’t we? This kind of rightness is what it’s all about, and we’ve managed it this evening.”

Not burying their heads in the program notes for the concert about to begin, the two men kept turning to one another. One of them suddenly stopped and dug into the inside pocket of his jacket and pulled out an iPhone. He leaned his face next to his friend’s and then the two of them looked forward together, heads touching as they faced the camera phone.

What I witnessed, amazing to say, was something I had done myself in just those seats in 2010. It was the gala opening of the BSO season and I had gotten first balcony seats for myself and one of those three men who have shared a Valentine's meal with me. Before bass-baritone Bryn Terfel began the all-Wagner concert that September afternoon, my friend had pulled out his iPhone and taken our picture.

I was watching myself all over again last Thursday evening. Was this how we had looked, I wondered. Here again was that dizzying sense of a universe happy to see two people just where they wanted most to be, with the person they most wanted.

I watched the lights go down in the concert hall, listened to the applause as the conductor came on stage. I was caught up in music that had caught me up before.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

The Blizzard of 2013

Though next-door neighbors, the two men I was expecting for drinks Saturday night had never seen the second-floor apartment where I live. They were able to name earlier tenants of the two-bedroom unit and even tell stories of them, but no invitation to ring the downstairs doorbell had been extended to them before mine.

I had been their guest one evening a year earlier. The backyard that I can see from my upstairs windows looks different when you are all seated in lawn chairs, mixed drinks and appetizers on low tables beside you. I remember sitting with my two neighbors in their yard, playing with their dog and looking up at the second-floor windows of my kitchen. It was strange that the exterior wall of a room where I spend so much time each day did not look at all distinctive.

One of them had mentioned the red lamp shade that is visible in my kitchen window when the two men are sitting outside late in the evening. This past Saturday night I made sure that the small kitchen lamp was turned on when they walked in. I wanted them to say, maybe just to themselves, “Ah, there it is.”

It was an odd day to have company. Nothing odd about inviting neighbors over for drinks on a Saturday night, of course, but the invitation had been extended two weeks earlier when none of us knew about the Blizzard of 2013. None of us knew that we would be spending a significant part of that Saturday shoveling out steps and walkways and cars from underneath two feet of snow and sometimes even taller drifts.

Online exchanges between us during the days leading up to the storm insisted, however, that nothing could be that difficult about walking to a house next door. I had two pairs of heavy woolen socks waiting on the radiator near my front door. If my neighbors took off their shoes there at the door, they might welcome an extra layer of warmth as they padded through an unfamiliar apartment.

What were they going to see? I had promised a brief tour of my rooms, and at different times during that snowy Saturday I had gone room by room, scouring kitchen sink and white porcelain stove top with Soft Scrub, spraying Lemon Pledge on the dining room table and a bedroom chest of drawers, swirling blue disinfectant in the bathroom bowl. I had vacuumed and sent the cat scurrying under my bed. I had moved stacks of mail off the pub table in my kitchen. I had sorted the books on the long leather ottoman in front of my living room couch. At the last minute I had lit a single tea light in its holder on the mantle.

Surveying the living room right before their arrival, noting with satisfaction the quiet light of the three lamps, I suddenly felt the solid decade that separated me from the older of the two men ready to visit me. Briefly I fought the feeling that I was living out a stereotype. I reminded myself that I had simply done what any number of people do when guests are coming, reminding myself as well that few of us ever notice all the preparations that hosts put into making their spaces welcoming.

The two men were good company that evening. Their visit to my apartment was prelude to our all three of us returning to their house for fettuccine with homemade vodka sauce – something they had prepared especially for me. Walking down my stairs on our way out, one of the two men slowed down as we reached the bottom and pointed to something on my wall – a favorite vintage photograph that I had framed with multiple mattes and hung there at the entrance of my home.

He turned to me and said, “I really like that framing.”