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‘The Remembering’: An Excerpt from the Introduction

This isn’t the book I meant to write… but apparently it’s the one I was meant to write.

Between January 2018 and August 2019, I lost my mother, my father, and a job I had enjoyed for more than a decade. A few months after that, the entire world hunkered down through a once-in-a-century global pandemic.

Writers have a word for a series of events like this: “material.”

Mom and Dad were naturally huge figures in my life. Mom was a writer with 25 published books in her lifetime, a formidable creative force with a mercurial nature and a flair for melodrama, a loving and supportive single parent and mentor who also checked out on me at key junctures. Dad was an architect, a builder influenced by the destruction he witnessed driving a U.S. Army jeep through Berlin in fall 1945, a kind but often anxious man who disappeared from my life for two decades after my parents divorced when I was two, and who I only really came to know in the closing chapter of his life.

Mom’s death in January 2018 left me in an unfamiliar state: dumbstruck. We had sensed the moment approaching for months, but there’s only so much grieving you can do ahead of time, especially when you’re focused on being fully present for whatever time you may have left together. In the days after anticipation became reality, I struggled to process the experience, and couldn’t conceive of how I might write about it. And then, I did. That essay, “Earthquakes,” was the seed from which this book grew. Over the months that followed, a dozen more blossomed from the wreckage, the most raw and personal writing of my life, writing that felt at once uncomfortable and liberating. As they emerged, each piece feeling more revelatory than the last, the sense grew that they were building toward something. The obvious answer seemed like an essay collection—which is probably why it was the wrong one.

The blog where these essays were published, initially established as a platform for talking about my books, became a venue for sharing my heart with an audience of not just family and friends, but readers as well, strangers connected only by words on a page. The emotional core of this writing—an ongoing search for solace, meaning and community—seemed to resonate and create a feedback loop. Again and again, readers posted comments or sent emails saying, in essence, “Yes—I’ve felt that, too.” The milestones I experienced through this period are anything but unique, but it seems that’s exactly why these essays resonated—when you read something and recognize yourself in it, it multiplies the emotional impact of the work.

As the series continued into 2020, it was also interesting to observe how the fugue state the planet fell into through the worst stretches of the COVID-19 pandemic pushed us all farther inside our heads, often leaving us thinking in broader and deeper ways about our own lives, and life in general. The essays from that spring and summer don’t try to dress things up with elaborate metaphors; they’re little more than downloads of my stream of consciousness in that moment. And yet, they too struck a chord. It was clear that we were all hungrier than ever for that sense of connection—and even more so, to feel seen, and heard, and understood.

Born from a swirling mixture of sadness and reflection, these essays nonetheless spent much of their energy on locating a path back toward contentment and even joy. Both the writing process itself and the conversation after each piece was published became a form of therapy that proved to be profoundly healing. The idea that readers might also draw some benefit from that conversation was both moving and motivating.

Over time, as the series grew and branched and grew again, the imagined collection began to come together in my mind. I revisited and cherry-picked older pieces from earlier eras, sighing over the ones I had to let go (and then letting them go), all the while procrastinating the actual hard work of crafting the introductory, framing, and concluding sections that would constitute the meat of the book.

Once the latter work began, so too did the process of transformation, the caterpillar spinning its cocoon. Nestled inside, I soon found that exploring where these thirty years of essays came from wasn’t nearly as intriguing as exploring why. Why during my initial 1992 to 1996 run of op-ed pieces did I set out to write about politics, yet end up writing about parenting? Why a decade later did my early blogging quickly morph from venting about current issues to naming and praising my heroes? Why do the essays written between 2011 and 2015 feel like a nested Russian puzzle doll, each layer opening to reveal another hidden chamber as I searched for the wellspring of my own creative life? Trying to answer these questions might add value to that feedback loop, offering insights that were at a minimum interesting and at best helpful.

That notion was reinforced by the reactions of early readers of this manuscript (thank you, thank you), who urged me to go deeper. As I did so, the horse I had been busy assembling turned into a unicorn, a curious hybrid that’s both an essay collection and a memoir of sorts. The resulting story aims to broaden the notion of the writer’s journey to encompass every human’s journey from imagination through exploration, toward knowledge and perhaps even some degree of understanding. It’s a story full of puzzles and seeming paradoxes, about a child growing up in the care of a single, devoted yet volatile parent, an only child with three older brothers, a shy child content in solitude, even as he yearned for outlets of expression and connection.

Thus an idea became an archaeological dig became a full-blown expedition upriver into the psychological Amazon jungle. Hacking through those dense vines inevitably required me to search my own memories and the memories of those around me for clues. The thing about memory is, it’s tricky at best; as my brother Gerry told a friend struggling with Alzheimer’s, “You remember the feeling more than the facts—how it felt to be together, rather than what we did.” However clear or murky the facts of events described in the pages ahead may appear to me now, how I felt in these consequential moments still echoes through every chamber of my heart.

In a very real way, these emotional impressions and sense-memories that we all carry with us become our story. We hold them close and worry them like beads as we remember, again and again. When someone else remembers differently, we can become offended or defensive; we shouldn’t. Memory is not a perfect record of the past. Memory is inherently subjective, real events refracted through prisms of perception and emotion and imperfect observation, then spiked with conjecture and wishful thinking. What actually happened might look a lot different from the narratives we’ve long since constructed in our minds—yet your version is as true for you as mine is for me, even where we fill in those blanks in different ways…

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The Remembering: Reflections on Love, Art, Faith, Heroes, Grief and Baseball is available now.

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