My father had a gift for friendship and a lot of diverse people streamed through our living room. I noticed that he had endless curiosity about his guests’ work. If an ophthalmologist came for tea, he might ask what kinds of eye problems were most troublesome. If a lawyer visited us, he would ask him how the constitution affected his daily work. When I asked him one day why he did so, he was quite candid. “Many people spend most of their waking hours at work. That occupies the central part of their life. So, if you ask them, they can tell you the things most important to them and most interesting to me. I learn from them. I get to know them.”
Since I have traveled a lot, I have been thrown into the company of strangers on planes and trains, in clubs and restaurants, around sandy beaches and exotic resorts. It has been fun listening to professors and pilots, nurses and neurologists, finance specialists and flimflam artists. Their stories, of their work and of their life, have often kept me spellbound.
Also, my story is not just mine. Others have moved through my life, often leaving a lasting impression and sometimes an indelible one. I learned very little in school, but one teacher encouraged me to write and another prompted me learn multiple languages. Neither did I find the university conducive to any real learning, but I encountered one professor who provoked me to think for myself, boldly and independently.
My father, more than anyone else, modeled a receptivity to other people, especially people different from us, and showed how a friendship can open the door to other beliefs and values. A very different kind of person, my mother, placed a lot of value on kindness, and made me see how important it was to suspend judgment if one wanted to be humane. My brothers, cast from an entirely different mold, constantly challenged me to question every iota of belief before succumbing to it.
Women in particular have given me great joy and exhilaration and have also periodically hurt and humiliated me, but either way it has been a scintillating experience. I would have known so little about myself without those encounters.
So, defying the counsel of wise elders, I want to speak of myself. I want to capture a little of my story, ineptly, unevenly and admittedly with abundant bias, and say what I remember without apology and explanation. It just happens it is not only my story.