On days when I look at my Outlook calendar and see “Class Notes Due,” my first reaction is not often a good one. In fact, more often than not, it’s one of pure panic: what the hell am I going to say?
Sometimes the irreverent in me takes over. I think of making stuff up like imagining a conversation between Sherrod Brown and Ted Cruz or actually getting a response from Paul Krugman to my numerous emails. The recent televising of Clarice can bring forth a fantasy chat with Ted Tally on the pairing of fava beans with a good chianti, and I still long to find out if the former president ever paid the fees he likely owes Marc Kasowitz. I even picture Leslie Cockburn making stump speeches in Charlottesville and wonder how that’s working out. But mostly this week I am thinking about how the world changed a year ago, how long that change has lasted and the impact it has had on millions of people around the world of which I am hardly a microcosm. Compared to most, I’ve had it easy, but I still regret the lack of casual connectivity: the chats with colleagues, the impromptu and/or scheduled lunches, drinks and the like, the pace of it all. I don’t miss getting up at 5AM to drive to NYC before the traffic gets too bad but I do miss the drive home when I invariably listen to a novel on Audible and decompress before arriving. Some weeks I feel like the workday begins at 7AM on Monday and continues unabated into Friday evening—a constant marathon punctuated with questions like do I live to work or do I work to live. I find these days it is too often the former.
But inevitably something happens to awake me from my Puritan slumbers. It’s called life. This week there were three such events.
Some weeks ago at the urging of Steve Blum, I found myself agreeing to take on a Yale senior as a mentee or, perhaps better stated, agreeing to attempt to mentor a Yale student. Several days later I found myself on Zoom with a 23 year old person with whom I needed to make a connection. But, other than Yale and a willingness to enter the program, the two of us have little in common. We are separated not only by 45 years but by race, gender, background an interests. I am not surprising anyone when I say that I am a child of white privilege, that I went to a Yale feeder and a prep school no less, that I love the humanities and cannot comprehend science or math (although I trust both) and that for me Yale was as logical a next step in my life as politics was for a member of the Adams family. Only Henry dared reject it.
My mentee, conversely, is none of these things. She is so much more. And beyond that it is not my place to characterize her. We have worked hard to establish common ground and have agreed that authenticity is paramount. But the practical question I faced was how to advise someone who wanted to go to medical school. Hell, the closest courses I took to science at Yale were psychology and anthropology.
But I do know about getting into places: I’ve had four different careers and twice as many jobs and I can tell the difference between admissible and admitted even if not a hawk from a handsaw. So my advice: “You need to meet some of my classmates who practice medicine.” The first person I emailed was Charlie Thorne. That fine gentleman was back to me the same afternoon expressing his willingness not only to speak with my Yalie but to introduce her to others in her aspirational field. I knew I tried to play freshman baseball for a reason, and, much as I was out of my league on the same field with Charlie, Pat O’Gara, Ken Knodel, Rich Edwards and Don Massey (to name a few) and much as I am in over my head with my pre-med student, I felt that immediate feeling of being on the same team. And it’s sustaining.
I said there were three events and that leaves two. So I want to thank Naomi Lewin for her entertaining multi-media presentation of her career at the Tuesday Zoom lunch and for her patience with her ham-handed technician. Naomi followed such luminaries as Stan Weiss, who is rapidly becoming New Jersey’s most quoted infectious disease expert, Forbes columnist and real estate maven Fred Peters, and Dan Voll, quondam kidnappee and now a teacher in Colombia as speakers on our monthly Zoom. And yes, we NY centric provincials are trying to figure out a way to make this more accessible nationally. We have enlisted San Francisco based Kevin McKean in this process and would love volunteers from west of the Hudson (including you Ralph Fascitelli) to address us about their passions. We will even set up a special Zoom at a special time to make it happen.
And that brings me to event number three as one of my dearest friends from freshman year has reappeared in my life. The electric “Solar” Tom Strumolo will grab the mike for our next Zoom which is scheduled for April 6th. Tom has devoted his professional life to practical approaches to solar conversion and with climate change being one of the topics that not only confronts the planet but seems to polarize Americans as much as anything else, it should make for a lively discussion.
So that’s it for now because, uncannily, of space constraints. Bennett Gilbert, you will appear soon. Carolyn Grillo, you, Tom Corbi and Jane Miller need to take your act beyond Facebook. Chris Coffin, I hope you got your shots and Jeff Johnson, I will envy your minimal reaction to shot number two until the day I die. I’m not bitter…just sore.
Be careful out there!