Journal: Note to my grandchildren

Hi kids, wherever you are. It may be 10 or 15 or more years from today that you are reading this blog post, my blog having somehow survived our constant condition of electronic device revolution. If it’s 15 years from now the oldest of you will be in his thirties, the youngest in their twenties, making me if I’m still alive, 100 (we’re told that more people than ever before are living to be 100, while our hunter/gatherer ancestors and our Neanderthal cousins rarely  lived beyond their thirties). In spite of all those who say we are destroying the planet we are living longer, doing something, a lot of things right?

Your Bonne Maman would always tell me just how much she would like now to have the writings with the thoughts of her grandparents, let alone those of her own mother and father. Well, it seems that she never will. She thinks that her half-sister, Jacqueline, has her father’s papers, perhaps with some of his writing, but she won’t give them up, even copies of them. (Why??)

Well, not knowing if at some point in your lives you’ll be like her in this respect, wanting to know more about your grandparents, you’ll have my blog, probably with more than you want to hear about. I guess I’ll never know what this will mean to you. I unlike you and probably like most people never enjoyed in my own life the thoughts of my own parents and grandparents, at least as expressed in their writings.

I’m sure you’ve probably heard this, but you may not have been listening, much as my own children would tell me, that’s enough, Dad, enough talking. But, in answer to the questions that we all ask about ourselves, who are we, where are we going, where did we come from, I have a very simple answer to the question about who I am. I like ideas, reading the ideas of others, having ideas of my own. I’m now and have been for a long time most excited by ideas, with the result that I’m most taken up by what I’m reading, rather than by the things and, yes, people about me.

You know, and you may have heard this also from my children, from your parents and uncle and aunts. For many years, right up until the digital revolution there wasn’t a time when I didn’t have a book in one of my jacket pockets. Now of course it’s an iPhone with hundreds of downloaded books, a good number of the books on my shelves that I no longer touch. Today in retirement I can spend a good part of my waking hours writing and responding with thoughts of my own to those that I read. And I think I do a much better job at that than tending the cabbages in our raised beds, which as I look out the window behind me are right now in need of my attention.

Would I still be alive without a book, or an idea, most often some one else’s idea, yes derivative? But then who ever has an original idea? As I say that I realize that I’m really saying that not ideas, but people are most important, for ideas do come from people. I wonder how I would I have done on Robinson Crusoe’s island before Friday’s arrival?

My life having been for such a long time, in fact right up until now, so clearly dependent on the thoughts and ideas of others. I wonder if any of you, my grandchildren, my children too, are like that, most alive when responding to others’ thoughts with thoughts of your own? I suspect you’re not like me in that respect, but then again you probably are for isn’t it just being human to live by ideas?

Here’s a typical day in my life. In the morning, Josée and I will begin with a bike ride along BayShore, get back home and I with a second cup of coffee will go into our TV room, the room with the TV that we only turn on for the French Evening News on la chaine deux and once every year the Superbowl that I watch as perhaps you remember M and S with your father.

But now I don’t turn on the TV, but open up my laptop and get online, and then spend as much as 60 minutes trying to catch up with the world that has been going on without me for the past 24 hours. I begin with what must be the world’s newspaper, the NYTimes, and that takes up the largest portion of the 60 minutes. Then there’ll be time for a quick look at the Globe for the Celtics scores and also their Ideas page (which was a great addition several or more years ago to their newspaper). After that not for the news because there’s so little of it the WSJ opinion pieces, and I may end up with the Financial Times with their world financial news and a few opinion pieces from such as Larry Summers (whom Harvard should have held onto as their president) and Martin Wolf.

By the way, in doing a little search on Google, I learned that dogs had nearly twice as many neurons in their cerebral cortex as cats. I had always wondered if dogs were more “conscious”  (man’s best friend) than cats, and I still wonder. Do the extra neurons suggest that this might be so? What do you think?

I have for a long time been of the persuasion that differences of degree of consciousness is what separates us from other animals. Consciousness is not something we have and they don’t. How about you? Certainly our closeness of our pets and our encounters with other animals, and not only at the zoos we all visited together when you were little, but in the “wild”, has convinced me of this.

And today, our Siamese cat, Abby, that your uncle and aunts gave to their mother, definitely seems to have a consciousness, OK not ours, but still a consciousness. I know Maverick has been close to both dogs (Eddie, whom I know he must remember well as well


as any number of dogs he must have “walked” for pocket-money) and cats, with his cat, Mackie, and Lauren’s dog also when living in Austin. And then horses too, that you were so close to while living at the Ranch.


Maverick, what do you think, that is, about how conscious are your animal friends?

Mateo and Soleil probably right now you know little about either cats or dogs (here in our home you play with, and sometimes torment our cat, Abby, and I’m sure you don’t think at least right now, at 5 and 7 years, of how you may share traits with Abby, of how you may be a bit alike. How about now, 15 years or more later?

But what I wanted to write about was not just the nature of consciousness, but whether we might know the moment when we could say that yes, these early men, these hominids were not just conscious like, but were humans like us. And in fact we are still looking to determine that moment when we became human.

But as I say that I guess there really was no such moment or point in time. No moment of man’s creation. Our humanness evolved like all the rest of living things, slowly, over long, long periods of time. And we might ask will whatever it is that makes us truly human, will that be the same for your grandchildren as it is for you? That’s probably the most interesting question, is our humanness evolving and thereby changing? Are we losing something precious? Assuming we can ever say what that humanness is.

Another thing I wanted to write about today was…well, what was it? I guess I’ve forgotten. But you know, what my blogs are all about, as I believe I say somewhere (I’m going to need a good index which I don’t yet have) is getting to know myself, which after all if successful has to be my humanness.

You know, I don’t really know what’s going to happen to my mind during the years I have left. How much will I remember, how much forget? When you read this my “mind” (along with the brain which holds it will  be over and done with, not I hope, cooked). For the moment I’m still here. I don’t yet forget to pay the bills, nor do I forget you, the grandchildren. I don’t forget my wife of 54 years, who is still with me, almost a part, the best part, of me, sharing our home in South Tampa. And I remember that it’s now time to stop writing and go help her make lunch (you’ll be here today, as often, for lunch, you two but not of course Maverick). Do you still remember the San Luis lunches, especially the weeks when your Aunt K was visiting?

What kind of things do I forget. Well I just had it in mind to write, but mostly names. For the life of me I couldn’t give you a complete roster of the world champion Celtics. And like most people I nearly always forget my dreams (and related to this I remember very little of my childhood, unlike both my wife and Marcel Proust in this respect).

What bothers me most is to “lose” from my consciousness not so much a name, but an idea, for it to disappear from my memory before my being able to note it down. This is not, I trust, early dementia. I don’t think I’m losing my mind. I still think as well or as badly as I ever did. I’m 82, and I just read or heard somewhere that one half of 85 and older people will suffer from dementia of some kind. Not a nice thought to accompany you into the 80s.

When the three of you will be speaking together, as twenty and thirty year olds, perhaps all together in the Paris apartment that your parents have held onto, mostly for your benefit, and you’re speaking of Bon Papa, what will you say about his end? I hope good things, that he never lost his mind, and that right up until the end he could joke and laugh with you. I still think about the comic writer, whose name I do remember, Art Buchwald.


I think about him eating profiteroles and banana splits and writing his funny columns, right up until the end. Christopher Hitchens comes to mind also, who right up until his own death was probably drinking, smoking, and enjoyably conversing with his many friends. He was not going quietly.

“What’s it all about, Alfie?” was Buchwald’s way of saying goodbye. Do you remember the song? I remember I used to play it for you from my laptop computer.

Is it just for the moment we live? What’s it all about when you sort it out, Alfie? Are we meant to take more than we give, Or are we meant to be kind? And if only fools are kind, Alfie, Then I guess it’s wise to be cruel. And if life belongs only to the strong, Alfie, What will you lend on an old golden rule? As sure as I believe there’s a heaven above, Alfie, I know there’s something much more, Something even non-believers can believe in. I believe in love, Alfie. Without true love we just exist, Alfie. Until you find the love you’ve missed you’re nothing, Alfie. When you walk let your heart lead the way, And you’ll find love any day, …

Like Art Buchwald I too know there’s something much more, Something even non-believers can believe in.  I too believe in love, and as my father and your great, great grandfather used to say, without true love (for him this was helping others) we just exist.

But I’ve got to stop now and go into the kitchen. (Do you remember this, Mateo and Soleil? It was just this morning when Eddie Rodriguez was at your house opposite the Park talking with your father about perhaps “tenting” your home for termites. He was here earlier “injecting” with termite killer the walls of our home, or rather the café where our termites seem to be well established but for us conveniently localized. They are not even the least little bit conscious, are they, the termites? Or are they?


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