Category Personal Reflections

Hungary and Syria: A Tale of Two Diasporas

We are born into a particular place to particular people, absorbing the world we find and then habituating to its rhythms and requirements. The routine of being cared for intimately in a state of comfort and stability is our natural desire and need; children cannot thrive without it.

That said, human beings grow to become curious, adventurous and mobile creatures, often, though not in every case, ranging far from our original habitats in voluntary pursuit of economic betterment and new experience.

There is an involuntary shadow side to our mobility, however. Sometimes, life confronts us with forced relocation when famine, political upheaval or war (those three are often related) give us little choice but to leave our nests and strike out, in desperate circumstances, for the great unknown.

When this involves great swaths of a population, it merits the biblical term “diaspora.” (Deuteronomy 28:25, from ...

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Taking What Comes

So we make our plans, God and the fates rather quickly having their laugh at our folly while merrily shuffling the deck of our future.

Fifty-two possibilities from the get-go, eventually multiplied a million-fold by the cards still to be lain down in front of us, where they are joined by others in new configurations, or discarded by us, our volition exercised, in favor of yet more possibility.

But doesn’t every boy want to be a fireman when he grows up?

There are the genes, of course. Parents 5’1″ & 5’5”; you will not be playing center for the Lakers, no matter the compelling golden glow of those uniforms and your most fervent prayers.

The randomness of birth and its attendant geography, the weight of the land and the history of its people branding themselves upon you.

The Russians, the Spaniards, the Saudis, the Fijians and Turks.

The Swiss, the Italians, the Mexicans and Aussies.

National stereot...

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Offline in Maine: A Photo Essay

A vacation trip to the east coast last week brought forth a surprise. Despite my best (or worst?) intentions to mix in some work with the pleasure of my first experience of New England in the fall, it turned out that for the several days I spent on the rural Maine coast, I had no Internet access. Adding insult to injury, my cellphone service was down as well. Apparently, there are not enough people out there to warrant the digital infrastructure that would allow those far-flung inhabitants to keep fully on pace with the 21st century.

Now, I am someone with a profession that requires buddying up with both my computer and phone all day. And my primary avocation—readin’ & writin’—requires the same. So predictably enough, this disconnection in Maine was initially a cause for concern.

I think I remember uttering the words “Oh no…” when I first discovered, after several attempts, that my browser was simp...

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The Lasting Emotional Weight of Childhood Memories

I’m 3-something years old, and my family is living in an upstairs apartment in Woodbridge, New Jersey.

My dad is working two jobs, 16 hours a day, just a few years after we have immigrated without a penny in our pockets from a ravaged post-war Europe. There’s a howling nor’easter going on, buckets and buckets of rain. Probably some vestige of a hurricane.

I have somehow managed to sneak downstairs and out into the little spot of dirt and concrete that serves as a front yard. My mom is no doubt occupied with my newborn sister, her fourth child in nine years, and I am roaming free.

But as I’m looking up, I suddenly hear a voice rise above the storm. Where is it coming from? I finally manage to focus and see my mom’s head sticking out the upstairs window.

She’s bellowing.

“Andy, what are you doing?”

It is a very good question, for all times and seasons.

What I seem to be d...

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On Paying Attention: Ryan Lochte and Media’s Junk News

So we are at the end of these Olympic Games. Mammoth undertaking, nearly the entire world enthralled to some degree or other with these contests reflecting intense passion, competitive fire, and, for the most part, a sense of universal brother-and-sisterhood, human solidarity writ large across nations and cultures and even religions of the world, oh my…

All of it reflecting years of effort and training and dreaming for a select few fortunate enough to make it to this pinnacle of the sporting world.

(Yes, I know it also reflects rampant commercialization, politicization, fraud and influence peddling etc.; I’ll get back to you the very moment I find a large human endeavor that is free of those…)

In the midst of it all, a quartet of lunkhead male swimmers, who I’m sure are fine sons and friends and teammates with many scores of good people who can vouch for their essential good character, get too much ...

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