9/22/07

The difference between "future" and "direction"

Maurice and I were at dinner the other night for the first time in many months. What was once a regular ritual for us both has become less and less frequent - meeting to discuss our community book over a meal. We spent the first half of dinner catching up. I was pleased to hear that he is writing and surprised to discover that he completed a book on Abraham Joshua Heschel since we last talked. He also informed me that while away for a brief trip to the bay area, he nearly died. He was found in his hotel room by a cleaning lady unconscious and siezuring. After being rushed to a hospital and spending considerable time in intensive care, he pulled through. He complained of some memory problems since returning home and admitted needing more sleep than he ordinarily does. Somewhat shaken by the ordeal he talked with new fervor about finding a publisher for the community book - "our community book." The back story to this entry is that I worked with Maurice to help him write a user friendly trade book about community. The process took several years to complete and despite our best efforts to find a publisher, we have not succeeded in getting the book in print. This is due in part to the fact that the book is difficult to niche - its very broad and ecompasses so many of his thoughts and experiences. Despite my best efforts to narrow the focus and cut what I thought should be eliminated, each revision resulted in my feeling more frustrated and less hopeful that we would ever get the book in print. Nevertheless, we continue trying to find a way to get "our book" published. Since Maurice is on his way to 86 years old, time is not our friend.

During our dinner discussion Maurice told me he added a chapter on the healing community. I tried not to look exasperated but inside I was thinking that this book is never really going to be finished and I don't have the heart to tell him that another chapter won't get us closer to our goal. But as I listened I had a small moment of brilliance - it occured to me that one of the chief failings of our book is that it's a book about community instead of a book about communities. When Maurice finished I said, "I think we overlookd something important Maurice. The book needs to be about the communities you have known and experienced - if we organized the chapters more explicitly around these communities we might be able to help a publisher feel more clear about the book's scope and sequence." He nodded approval and then I thought, "Oh my God! We don't have time to rewrite this book again." Then, another small moment of brilliance - "Maurice, we can't rewrite the book. First, I don't have time, and second it needs to be published or not published as is. Having said that, I've been thinking about my role in all of this."

I went on to tell Maurice that I thought it would be sad to see him leave the world without sharing his own insights and experiences. "You've spent your entire life writing about Martin Buber's ontology of meeting but you've made your own contributions to the life of dialogue - beyond what Buber might have done or imagined. I've helped you edit/write a book about community that reflects your own thoughts and views on the subject but I find you far more accessible in conversation that you are in writing. What if we conducted some interviews? The purpose would be to have you talk about the many communities you have known: Pendle Hill, Heschel's hasidim, your Hasidic tales, the Institute for Dialogical Psyhcotherapy - there have been many."

Maurice seemed intrigued by the idea and nodded agreement. "Maybe we can podcast these interviews and give people another way to access the things we have been writing about."

When dinner was over I helped Maurice get up from his chair. As I was sliding his cane-free hand into his dinner jacket he said, "This has been a wonderful meeting. We have a future." I replied, "I don't know what kind of future we have but we at least have a direction." Maurice paused, slid his free arm through mine and said, "I think a direction is better than a future."

The more I thought about Maurice's comment, the more it rang true for me. Ten minutes without a sense of direction is an eternity while 10 years filled with a sense of purpose flies by in what seems to be seconds. I feel a small sense of urgency about scheduling meeting times with Maurice and in spite of my very busy and sometimes overwhelming schedule, I am committed to following through. One can procrastinate about the future but ignoring a strong direction once it has become clear is the worst kind of sin. I don't know what the future holds for Maurice and me, our relationship hinges on his ability to stay healthy and strong and my refusal to let my service to the urgent become slavery. But our newest direction makes me feel sure that the time we have left together will meaningful and fulfilling for us both - and that brings me comfort.

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