dimanche, octobre 22, 2006
Undimmed by time
They've known one another for just a little over 50 years now. Time has left its mark on both of them, but it has not dimmed the affection they feel for each other. The younger one has a debilitating chronic illness that keeps him inside his house most of the time. The older man suffers from a few ailments, but still travels the globe, honored and feted as the foremost African-American historian of his age. They met as young professors at a New York City college-one near the beginning of a long and successful teaching career, the other already famous in his field and about to become even more eminent. Both outsiders in their own way-one Jewish, one black-they developed the habit of walking together around the college where they both worked, and ending up at a deli where they continued to share ideas and confidences over corned beef and pastrami. Neither of them eats corned beef or pastrami now, of course. Over the past five decades, they have edited books together, visited each other's homes, attended conventions, and become friends with one another's spouses. Any relationship that goes on for more than half a lifetime, extending well beyond the deaths of their two beloved wives, is not uncomplicated-nonetheless, they are, the older scholar told me when I visited him recently, like brothers. In New York for a speaking engagement this past week, he took a cab from Manhattan and visited the younger man, who had recently suffered a fall and was confined to bed. What did they discuss? I can only imagine-what does one talk about when Thoreau and Lincoln and Du Bois and Douglass are like old friends, to be summoned to butress an argument or illumine an anecdote? When I heard of the morning spent together, I rejoiced, and I wept, for the durability of the friendship and the constraints, the cruel constraints, that time lays on the strongest of us. But my dad didn't seem in the least unhappy-he was pleased, I think, to be taken out of the bounds of illness into the wider world of history and politics and theory that has been his true home for so many decades-and to see his dear friend, who cared enough to reinforce, with grace and delicacy, the bond between them, only strengthened by the years.