Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Pulling the Weeds

I’ve been following the many articles in The Atlantic written by Robert P. Jones on the intersection of religion, particularly in its evangelical forms in America, and culture. He’s been at it for some time now, going back at least to 2014, banging the drum particularly on the ways black Christians differ from white Christians. The most recent edition of The Atlantic contains an article in which he sums up his views on this difference, and appeals to white Christians to get their act together and rid themselves of the white supremacy that has characterized the Christian denominations, catholic as well as protestant, since before the nation was founded. The article, “White Christian America Needs a Moral Awakening” is a short version of his latest book, White Too Long: The Legacy of White Supremacy in American Christianity.


What Jones has to say about religion fits hand-in-glove with my personal experience with religion, and that is that what we attribute to religion is far more often more aptly attributed to culture. When pushed to the wall about our religious faith, we come up with doctrinal explanations, virgin birth, resurrection, the need for forgiveness of sins and what have you, but in my view doctrine is rarely the best place to begin. We believe what we believe in large part because it’s what our parents and our neighbors believe.


And because I believe that’s the case, I see religion as arbitrary. Not true. Arbitrary. People who grow up in Peoria are not likely to be Hindus or Zoroastrians. They’re far more likely to tell you they know the Lord saved them, and the Lord has a name and it’s Jesus Christ. People who grow up in Bangladesh are quite likely to see things differently. Not because they’re stupid, or ignorant, but because their parents and neighbors inculcated in them at a young age ideas other than the fact that Christ walked on water.


I was raised in a Christian culture. I went to church every Sunday from an early age, both for the regular morning service and Sunday School classes as well. I started out in a Baptist Church, but when it got swallowed up by a Congregational Church, I began identifying as a “Pilgrim,” which was just a nicer sounding word to my young ears than “Calvinist.”  My years in the Pilgrim Fellowship, which our youth group was called, were just the beginning of a lifelong journey through religion - and ultimately out of religion. The fact that that journey lasted most of my life became obvious to me when I discovered, well into my fifties, that I had steered my interest in religion directly into my professional life as a teacher of language and culture in Japan, almost without knowing it.


I had a wonderful experience teaching in Japan. I learned so much. Enough for me to fully embrace the notion that people go into teaching because they see learning as an activity that takes a life time. One teaches because one realizes one never stops needing to learn more. And what better way to get away with spending one’s serious hours on learning things than to declare one is a teacher. You do that and the world stops expecting you to focus on acquiring wealth, or selling things in a store, or running for political office. It allows you to get away with endless inquiry. I was still getting a formal education in my forties and the year I finally began teaching with a PhD in education and linguistics was the year I turned fifty. 


University teaching in Japan follows the early German tradition of university as a study of universals. Professors actually get to profess; they get to teach pretty much what they want to teach and in many cases - not all, but many - they are free to expand beyond the fields they are hired to teach in. Because my focus was on the meaning of culture, I spent the better part of two decades simply defining culture. I went about it by attempting to pull the concept apart from other concepts it overlapped with - culture and civilization, culture and society, culture and power, culture and religion, and more. And when it came to culture and religion I found myself, yet again, digging through my own personal history of why it was that although I thought I had left religion behind, it was still nagging at me, demanding attention again and again each time new life experience gave me new perspectives on things.


Defining is essentially analysis. Defining religion is of necessity coming to see how the word is used essentially as a portmanteau to cover a huge number of distinct concepts: religion is doctrine, it is music and literature and architecture, it is cultural practice, it is psychology, sociology, politics.


Reflecting on the early days of my encounter with religion, I am now surprised at just how long it took before I began to admit to myself that I was no longer a believer, that I found the Christian message unappealing because it was so obviously arbitrary. That to accept Christianity one had to buy into historical "truths" that differ from the historical "truths" of non-Christian cultures. The reason I left the church initially was not because I stopped believing; it was because German Lutheranism differed so noticeably from the American Lutheranism I had come to know before I went to Munich in 1960. I grew up in a town where Roman Catholicism held sway; most of my friends, the closest ones, were Catholics, and I went to mass so often I had pretty much memorized the Latin rituals. I was interested in foreign languages even before high school, so it is no surprise that I should be drawn to the Catholic Church. They had something the Protestants didn't have - the use of Latin. It was a big draw. And from that came the focus on ritual, since they were intertwined. And the focus on ritual was esthetically attractive to me because it was associated with language so strongly, and at some real level, because I was too much entrenched in Protestantism on both grandparents' sides to find the courage to turn my back on it, I sought out a form of Protestantism that gave more weight to ritual than the virtually ritual-free Congregational Church I was growing up in. 


My grandmother's Lutheran Church fit the bill. They had what I thought was a lovely ritual. Furthermore, I associated it with the German language, since I frequently went to the German service with my grandmother. And that led me to Luther's Small Catechism, both for language and for content. Congregationalism was boring as hell, being all about being "nice."  I wanted some serious doctrine to sink my teeth into, and the Lutherans provided the certainties I was seeking. They had no doubt they had the truth, the whole truth, nothing but the truth.


The Lutherans I knew in America were fun-loving people. They loved to sing and dance and drink beer. The Lutherans I encountered in Munich were not fun. I had applied to live in a Lutheran dormitory, and it came with certain religious obligations. One of these was a weekend excursion where, as a foreigner, I quickly became the center of attention. How did I spend my time? By going to the Hofbräuhaus every Saturday night, of course, drinking beer by the liter and swaying to the oompah bands. How else would an American kid, still too young to drink legally in his home country, and away from home for the first time, spend his time?


My colleagues were horrified. Drinking? And too much, by the sound of it. Is that any way for a Christian to behave? Well, yes, I thought to myself. Of course it is. I’m a Lutheran, not a Congregationalist anymore. (And even the Congregationalists where I came from liked their beer). But this was Munich, and the Lutheran Church was aware of itself as a minority in still, in those days, very Catholic Bavaria, and tight-assed as hell. I became a pariah in the dormitory, and since I was being exposed not only to puritanical Lutheranism but the glories of one of the world’s most splendid cities for high culture - opera, operetta, as many museums as breweries (about 40 of each), and since I had a wonderful collection of American friends to keep company with, it wasn’t long before Lutheranism - the social culture of it - lost all its appeal. I was on my way out. It still took a while before I let go of the doctrine, but I was out.


This is the lens through which I read Robert P. Jones’ ruminations on the white supremacy of the Christian denominations in the United States. Of course Americans would ignore the Sermon on the Mount with its suggestion that the meek would inherit the earth. Of course we would equate intelligence with making money, of course we would mouth platitudes about giving to the poor while making sure they didn’t actually move into our neighborhoods. Religion wasn’t what the Bible said; it was how we behaved - culturally. It was a reflection of our values. Not our espoused values, but the ones we actually lived by.


I’d take this all a bit further. Jones is right to focus on how deeply embedded white supremacy is in American religion, but there’s another issue that I think is worth considering, while we transition into this era of new awakenings. One way of naming this new era is to call it the age of computers. We live by a brand-new reality, the fact that we no longer depend on experts to tell us what is happening in the world. We can seek out whatever we want to on our own. We can get access to our own truths, indulge ourselves endlessly with whatever piques our interest, whether that is pornography, or sports, or conspiracy theories or simply cute pictures of cats and dogs. 


Mostly we can indulge our belief that we, as Americans, are born with rights. We have the right to define freedom for ourselves. And that means we can live where we want, travel where we want, carry guns if we want, watch the news if we want. Or not. And we can determine for ourselves what the truth is. I know some wit (was it Pat Moynihan?) insists that we have the right to our own opinions but not to our own facts. But we also know that we have the right not to listen to Pat Moynihan if we choose to.


Why are we so adamant about the right to our own truth? I think it is because America put such emphasis from the earliest days onward, on the freedom of religion. We have a right to believe whatever religious notions we want, and nobody - certainly no governmental organization - can tell us otherwise. And that right comes with no responsibility. We don’t have to answer for our choice of religion; we simply exercise the right. Period. Full stop.


It’s only a small step, once you get used to insisting on your right (without responsibility) to believe whatever you want in religion, to insisting on your right (without responsibility) to believe whatever truth suits your fancy. And this is how Donald Trump became president - because a critical mass of religious believers, people who knew their rights to believe whatever they chose to believe - got behind him when he said he was going to clear the swamp. And once you throw your weight behind a tribal leader, you’ve got a home, emotional security, an island of security in an insecure world.


It’s not only that we have a right to believe Americans are the good guys in the world, that when we have marched into all those foreign places, it was to bring democracy and freedom, and that our noble soldiers died for that freedom and don’t you forget it. It’s that historically we became - and will always be - the greatest country in the world. Slavery? Sure we had it. But that’s history, not the present. Genocide. Well, that’s a word we use for the Holocaust, and maybe for Armenia. Not for the American Indians.


I’m with Robert P. Jones. I’m with the folks who talk of becoming “woke.” Of getting ourselves (white folks, I mean) to recognize just how deep-seated white supremacy is marbled into American culture.


I’m bored with despair. Bored with people who talk about running to Canada. Go, if you must. Call Americans idiots, if you want. A great many of us are. But not all of us.


Some of us are having a great time with this new development, with recognizing how deep-seated our prejudices are, how very similar our task is to that of the new German generation to recognize that history is not a pretty picture at all, that it requires courage to look at, and effort to put right.


History is not static, but dynamic. Not a field of study, but, like science, a process to engage in.  Part of the lifelong learning process.  We’re never going to get it entirely right. But we can continue to pull out the weeds when they come to our attention.



Friday, July 31, 2020

The Weissensee Saga


I just finished the final episode of a four-season serial called, in English, The Weissensee Saga. It led me to break my vow not to stay up till 3 a.m. any longer, but to pace myself and recognize that I could actually postpone the pleasure of knowing what comes next, if I put my mind to it. The four seasons of six hour-long episodes each kept me going till 3 a.m. on at least three separate occasions. 24 hours of television don’t come without some wear and tear.


When I ended up in Berlin, in 1963, working for the U.S. Army Security Agency listening in on phone calls between East German functionaries, I was still in my early 20s and very wet behind the ears. I complained that the work was actually quite boring - listening to people fixing water mains or preparing to pick up people flying in from Moscow - but the truth is I felt I was at the very center of the world. The Berlin Wall had just gone up in 1961 and West Berlin was a virtual island. We loved the titillation of telling each other that the Russians could march in and kill us all at a moment’s notice. Here we were, saving Western Civilization, nose-to-nose with the Commies. There was no way I was not going to take myself too seriously.


The trouble with that narrative is that another narrative was making its way into my psyche at the same time. We sat, hour after hour, with earphones on, playing back the recorded phone calls on spools of tape, mining what we heard for information we thought might be of interest to the folks back home at Headquarters in Ft. Meade, in Maryland. Behind us were regular army sergeants with no understanding of what we were doing who tapped us regularly to clean toilets or rake leaves. Some were decent folk, but there were also the occasional mindless types who took pleasure in exercising their power to bully. And at the same time, the voices we heard speaking into our ears were by and large a congenial lot. They often digressed from their work to talk about birthday parties and their kids and grandkids. Real people. Didn’t fit the image of “dirty commies” at all.


Sometimes the contrast got scary. I realized at one point that I was actually looking at some serious cognitive dissonance, and what I might imagine as motivation to defect to the other side. Not really. These were all just disembodied voices and they were, at least theoretically, unaware of who we were and what we were all about. But there was stuff there to at least raise the possibility in our imaginations. And removing the concept of “dirty Commies” and replacing it with intelligent personable men and women naturally led to more curiosity of just who these people were and what motivated their loyalty to this socialist regime. I had read Marx and Engels and Lenin in a course called Contemporary Civilization in college, along with a study of fascism and other forms of totalitarianism. I was young and innocent, and my knowledge of Hannah Arendt was, at the time, abstract and totally bookish. Here, suddenly, I came to see how much of what I claimed to know and understand was due to the completely arbitrary accident of my birth. Listening to these earnest folk through my earphones, eight hours a day, did more than travel and encounter with ever new people and places to cause me to let go of the years of identity marking. I was a New Englander. A Protestant Christian. A young Republican becoming a young Democrat. An American of German and Scottish heritage. A disgruntled soldier. And it was all arbitrary. Here in this bubble, most of the world was outside and there was just me and the voices I got to recognize and begin to build biographies around.


Additionally, because we read the East German papers carefully every day in order to familiarize ourselves with the world these people were living in, I began to note the sometimes quite wide discrepancies between what got reported in the East and what got reported in the West, along with the slants, in each case. I still tended to believe what got into the Western press was true and what got into the Eastern press was propaganda, but there were times when the absence of certain information in the Western papers gave me pause. Why, I wondered, was nobody talking about these things? Why was I not getting the whole picture?


Ever so gradually, I opened up to the possibility that there might be something to the notion that “the truth,” elusive as that term was becoming, might lie, if not in the middle, at least at some point closer to the middle. I got my first awareness of how much in the West was driven by our strong endorsement of individualism. I would expand this view in later years, after making my home in Japan, with its “other-orientation” - the tendency to check in with others before going off half-cocked on one’s own. The binary of the individual, on the one hand, and the whole culture around heroes, from Superman and Batman and the Lone Ranger to Ayn Rand’s Übermensch entrepreneur, and the collective, on the other, became an endless tug-of-war, with no solution. One had to find a balance. Too much individualism and you got vulture capitalism; too much collectivism and you got a lack of initiative. And that awareness begged the question of morality and recasting the Christian message as a form of proto-communism. And that, in turn, suggested that the Christianity I was exposed to in America was heavily influenced by the cultural value of me-first individualism. The gap between the values espoused in the Sermon on the Mount and the values I saw practiced by American Christians began to strike me a woefully hypocritical. I left the church and never went back.


When the wall came down, I watched the excitement from my living room in Tokyo, tears streaming down my cheeks. All those years people who meant the world to me, my friend Achim and my Tante Frieda in Berlin, especially, lived with what they felt to be life upside down, a divided Germany that kept old friends and family from seeing each other and sharing lives in a normal fashion. The tears were in part because Achim and Tante Frieda had not lived to experience the change, but also because the thrill and the excitement of the people climbing the wall and tearing it to pieces with picks and in some cases by hand, was palatable. My French colleagues worried aloud about the possibility that Europe could once again fall under the spell of a bullying Germany. But I worried that the idealists of East Germany were about to be sucked into the triumphalism of the vulture capitalists. I had no love for the DDR, the (East) German Democratic Republic, because it was obvious it had devolved into a police state where one in eight citizens were in uniform, if memory serves me right. But I did understand the dream of the socialist idealists who wanted to build a world of equality, one in which nobody fell through the cracks. You know, kind of like the perfect world Christ spoke of.


And that brings me to the Weissensee Saga, the story of two families, the Kupfers and the Hausmanns. Hans Kupfer’s father suffered under the Nazi regime and he has been an ardent socialist from early on. He remains an idealist as he climbs through the ranks of the power structure, and is now, by the start of the series, a leading force in the Office of State Security (the Stasi). He’s a realist, and he knows he is surrounded by forces that are self-serving. These include his older son, Falk.  His younger son, Martin, shows little interest in political things and joins the police force. Hans’s wife, Marlene, is, like her husband, an idealist, and like her younger son, apolitical. Her life is dedicated to home and family, and she leaves the work of the state up to the men in her life.


The other family at the center of this story centers on Dunya Hausmann, a popular and successful cabaret singer. She too is an idealist, and soon begins to find fault with the corruption that has crept into the ruling cadre of the SED (Socialist Unity Party), the Socialists running the DDR. Gutsy and outspoken, she writes and performs protest songs that quickly get her into trouble. She has a daughter, Julia, who is very much on the same wave length as her mother.


The two families become connected when Julia gets stopped for a traffic violation by Martin Kupfer, and the two develop an immediate attraction for each other. Unbeknownst to them both, Martin’s father, Hans, and Julia’s mother, Dunya, were once romantically involved, and Hans’s feelings for Dunya have not disappeared, entirely. As time goes on, he uses his influence to keep Dunya - and later his son, Martin - out of trouble. This puts Hans at odds with the party hardliners, and eventually Falk is given more of the responsibilities once met by his father. As Falk rises in importance to the regime, he reveals himself to be totally ruthless, unafraid to use any means necessary to gain power and control over those he considers “enemies of the State,” i.e., anybody who opposes him. The full range of  one set of character types, hero and villain, idealist and sell-out, are portrayed by the Kupfer family and the physical and psychological destruction of those opposed to the regime can be seen in the Hausmann victims.  What emerges from these character portrayals is a nuanced and ultimately sympathetic picture of the cogs in the East German machine, no doubt aided by the fact that many of the actors were themselves East Germans and had direct personal experience with the characters and events they were portraying.


The series began filming in 2010 portraying events from 1980. The second series jumps to 1987. Julia has been imprisoned and given to understand that the baby she had in prison died at birth. Martin has broken off from his family and struggles in vain to find his way to Julia, who, he has been told, has been released to live in West Germany. Dunya has been blackmailed to work for the Stasi in order to keep her daughter safe while in prison. She participates in the lie that Julia is in West Germany. The third season takes us up to the fall of the wall in January 1989, the fourth to the introduction of the D-Mark, the first real step in the reunification of the two Germanys.


I don’t want to give away any more spoilers for those who might enjoy the soap opera-like events of endless ups and downs. The tension becomes extreme between those, particularly Falk, who are the prime movers of what came to be known as perhaps the world’s most effective police state, and those whose hopes for a socialist paradise are gradually whittled away, leaving them with little hope for the future. I found myself wanting to fling things at the TV screen when watching what Falk was able to get away with, how much he destroyed even his own family, and how complete was the failure of the socialist dream.


I understand the series met with great success in Germany (https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/tv/20-years-on-germans-flock-to-cold-war-dallas-show-2095747.html ), drawing in five million viewers a night (16% of the total) and was viewed pretty much as an accurate picture of the reality of the Cold War division of the country into two opposing states. You can view it as history told with flesh-and-blood characters or simply as a gripping tension-filled soap opera. As with most series, you get tired of watching characters who do not evolve as people fast enough to make a happy story with a happy ending. And if you are primed, as I was, to see the fall of the wall as a mixed blessing, the elimination of the horrors of a police state but at the cost of a surrender to greed and self-centered behavior, you may find some of the events portrayed as unsettling. How accurate this image is of modern-day Germany, I leave for you to decide. There’s something about watching people struggle up close for ten years or more that makes it hard to let go. Which says a great deal, I think, about the quality of the acting. There are plot twists that made me want to strangle the writers. And some seriously off-putting character flaws.


Nonetheless, the acting is superb. And if you’re like me, you’ll find yourself wondering what those people are up to today and need to be reminded that they are fictional characters.


It helps, of course, that you can look up Katrin Sass, who plays Dunya Hausmann on YouTube and find the songs (and others) she sang along the way that got her into trouble.


Here are a couple:


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6_DqpEx8Jk


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXnl6vDLTLQ


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2wzULH_8BZ8


You may remember Katrin Sass from the film Goodbye, Lenin, made in 2003. She played the mother who fell into a coma. When she awoke, the doctors told her son she couldn't stand any great shocks, so he worked day and night to keep the illusion alive that the DDR still existed. She died without ever learning that her socialist paradise had come to an end. Florian Lukas, is also in both films. He plays Martin Kupfer in Weissensee and the TV announcer in Goodbye, Lenin, who helps her son keep the deception going. 


Two different approaches to telling the story of Die Wende, ("The Turn" - the term Germans use to refer to the process of reunification and reconciliation); it's no small challenge to accomplish this without running the risk of making Westerners ("Wessies") into victors and Easterners ("Ossies") into losers. These two films, each in their own way, work to keep that from happening.







Monday, July 27, 2020

Missing Ed Devlin


Moth goes into a podiatrist's office. Doctor asks what the matter is. Moth says, "Doc, my life sucks. I'm having trouble at home, my kids don't even recognize me, my job is crap and I'm getting old." Podiatrist asks, "Can you trace this difficulty to anything in your past?" Moth says, "Yeah. I was abandoned as an egg, I had a very difficult larval stage, and now that I'm an adult, I can't seem to sort anything out." Podiatrist says, "Well, it seems to me that you need to see a psychiatrist, not a podiatrist. Why in the world did you come in here?" Moth replies, "The light was on."

My friend Ed Devlin died this week and I’m looking for ways to channel my memories as I try to get used to the idea that he’s gone. He was a great friend, one of the big five or six irreplaceable soulmates I have been blessed with on my trips around the sun.

Jehovah's Witness
training facility
The moth joke is not a non sequitur. I remember Ed first and foremost as a jokester, and it seemed like a good place to begin would be to share a sample of his wit, selected at random from among the many hundreds of illustrations of his sense of humor sent my way over the years.

I first met Ed at San Francisco State in the late 60s, when we were both in the M.A. TESL program (Teaching English as a Second Language). He also headed up the Liberian Language Project and I worked under him with a team of linguists and with two native speakers of Kru to analyze the grammar and set up an introductory course in the language for Peace Corps Volunteers. My first impression of him was of a sharp wit and a keen intelligence. What otherwise could well have turned into a heavy slog of pulling out syntax and vocabulary in a messy trial-and-error fashion became an exciting adventure, thanks in no small part to his affability. I felt cheated when the project came to an end.

With my M.A. in hand, I went off to Japan in March of 1970, to start my career as an ESL teacher. To my absolute delight, when I returned to the U.S. from Japan in the summer of 1974 and started teaching in the summer orientation program for foreign students at Stanford, I discovered Ed was working there as well. This time, we quickly became close friends.  

Because by this time I had built up a strong sense of connection with Japan, I was having trouble letting go and was trying to carve out a way to spend half my time in Tokyo and the other half in San Francisco. The great majority of Japanese students getting advanced degrees at Stanford were employed by either a government ministry or a large corporation like Toyota or Canon and Ed and I came up with the idea of getting their company sponsors to underwrite a three-month prep program in Tokyo before they left for the U.S., which the two of us would run. The naivety of the whole thing makes me blush today, but at the time it seemed like an idea worth trying.

Ed ran the ESL program at Monterey Peninsula College year round. I had not been able to find anything other than part-time jobs in the Bay Area since my return, so Ed suggested I come to Monterey. We’d get an apartment, I’d play housewife and he’d pay the rent, and we’d work up a proposal to take to the corporate sponsors in Tokyo. I jumped at the idea.

We made our way together to Tokyo and got an apartment in Nakano, near Shinjuku. With some introductions by former students I managed to set up appointments with the personnel directors of several of the companies who had sent students to Stanford as part of their career enhancement programs. Japanese salary men tended to stay with their companies for life in those days, so such investments in employees were routine. We were warmly received and hopeful we might get the project off the ground initially, but it wasn’t long before it became evident that no one would take the first step. The personnel managers all said they would go along if somebody else would sign on first. We came home empty-handed.

We managed nonetheless to have a great time in Tokyo, and Ed and I got to know each other much better with each passing day. “All this time,” he said to me once, “I always thought you had a superb sense of direction. But I'm on to you. You just move around so fast, and in all directions, and eventually it's inevitable that you hit upon your destination.” I loved the fact that somebody knew me well enough to be able to make that observation.

When we returned to California, Ed got me a job teaching part time at Monterey Peninsula College and I patched together a living with a couple of other bits and pieces, and we settled in for the duration while I tried to figure out where to go and what to do next, a story complicated by the fact that I had left behind in Japan a relationship that should have concluded, but didn’t. I had established a can’t live with him/ can’t live without him affair with Yochan, and with Ed’s connections at MPC, we were able to bring him over, as well. Yochan had virtually no English, but he was a superb communicator nonetheless, and Ed and Yochan hit it off beautifully. Yochan referred to me as “Mr. Hysteria” on occasion and asked Ed how it was that he could remain so calm when I would get so visibly hot under the collar. Ed picked up his shirt, showed Yochan a scar on his belly from a gall bladder operation. “Don’t blame Alan,” he said. “By getting things out, he will never have to worry about ulcers or stomach problems. Yochan took a minute to grasp Ed’s meaning, but soon joined me in understanding a side of Ed I hadn’t seen before, and perhaps a reason for his ability - or need - to keep the jokes coming.

By the third or fourth year of working part-time ESL jobs, with no job security, and very little income, my job at the Monterey Institute of Foreign Studies led to a job offer with the United Nations in Saudi Arabia at four times my annual income. I left Ed and Yochan behind, choosing adventure over their company - and drawn by the thought of quadrupling my annual salary. Ed and I kept up an active correspondence while I was gone. I supplied him with stories of goats eating my carburetor cables and he kept me supplied with jokes and cartoons. An endless supply of puns, images of cake disasters, word play, limericks and other ways of playing with the English language. My only wish is that I had kept them all.

one of the simpler cake wrecks
Ed took delight in sending
my way
When the UN job in Saudi Arabia came to a close after a year (it was now 1977),  I returned to the house in Carmel I had shared with Ed, planning to take up the life I had left behind. But Yochan had gone back to Japan and a job opened up at the University of California at Santa Cruz, and that meant my second Monterey Peninsula sojourn (my first was my year at the Army Language School in 1962-3) came to a close. But not my working connection with Ed, it turned out. They were looking for a new director. I put Ed’s name in and he got the job and we were off and running as colleagues once more.

Life in Santa Cruz was a step up for me. I had wonderful colleagues and there was a large community of LGBT folks and my social life improved notably. Among those colleagues was a woman named Debbie Wright. I introduced her to Ed, they hit it off, and the next thing we were holding a wedding on the campus.

It was too good to last. Ed returned to Monterey, UC hired a total disaster of a replacement who ran the program into the ground, and the four of us senior teachers all scattered, Debbie to get a PhD at Santa Cruz, and me to a PhD program at Stanford.

Ed and I had a friendship that would endure, even when he and Debbie called their marriage off after something like sixteen years together. She got the house, but he chose not to fight her over it. He simply moved on, continued to work on building up the role junior colleges would play in the California higher education scheme, and expanded his work as a foreign student advisor by developing expertise in assessing foreign transcripts, a skill which led him to travel and publish on education in Eastern Europe - and, more importantly on the personal front, to meet Ann Koenig, who was working at the University of California, Berkeley, in admissions. Ann would share his work and his life through to the end. And would bring him ultimately to live with her in Berkeley, just minutes from my house. I couldn’t have asked for more, except that I had returned to live once more in Japan now and only saw them during the three months each year I spent in Berkeley.

Unfortunately, that experience, too, had a relatively short shelf-life. Ed and Ann had taken on jobs with a professional agency that worked on foreign student evaluation for American universities, and the company moved to Phoenix, taking them with them. It broke my heart, but we were now accustomed to a long-distance friendship and we stayed in close touch. Ann, fortunately, played the recorder at a professional level, and that brought her to Berkeley a couple times to perform, so she and Ed and I still had a way to get together, if only for very short spells at a time.

As the years went by Ed’s cognitive faculties began to fail and it became clear we were going to have to squeeze what we could out of the half century of friendship while we were still able.

Ann is now grieving Ed’s loss, as is a very large circle of friends to whom Ed brought so much laughter over the years.

You don't know when you meet somebody, no matter how well you hit it off, that you've begun a friendship that's going to endure for decades. You don't know if it will go smoothly, or if it will be filled with ups and downs.

I'm an opinionated person, and I tend to choose friends with strong wills and the inclination to articulate their views forcefully, so I am used to relationships that have their ups and downs. But Ed and I shared the better part of more than half a century together, with a remarkable lack of discord, considering how much of that time we spent in close proximity.I credit that to Ed's ways, his inclination to approach life as an absurdity, never to be taken too seriously. He could get annoyed at people, but he had a way of brushing things off before they got out of hand. It was a remarkable skill, and I learned much from watching him make his way in the world.

Some of the time he could be downright silly, and make me want to be silly, as well. In going through the many years of e-mail correspondence I have archived, I found this exchange from 2008.
Alan to Ed: Sanctuary mush for ze tipp.
Ed to Alan: Es elves, djuvalkom.

And this one, from about that same time: We had been discussing Andrew Sullivan. I sent him an article of Sullivan's and explained the mixed feelings I had about him:
I have a strange relationship with Andrew Sullivan.  (I say relationship, because I feel I know him.  He doesn't know me from a tree.)  For some time I decided he was THE gay Uncle Tom.  Then I got into his books seriously and was moved almost beyond endurance by some of the things he said.  He is a very powerful man with words.
Ed responded, revealing a side of him I was already quite familiar with, a complex jumble of confidence and humility:
Good article to read. I just wish I didn't have such an overwhelming feeling that anyone practicing a God-based religion is a deluded idiot, however nice and upright and charitable she or he may be. If you recall the film "Lawrence of Arabia" (nearly 50 years old now!), Lawrence puts a candle out with his thumb and finger; he is asked, "Doesn't that hurt?" and replies, "Yes, but the secret is not to mind that it hurts." 
So I co-exist less or more happily. I try to help in small ways. I don't get into arguments with simple people trained not to understand much. But there is still a hatred for the hurtful way things happen, even to those who hurt others without thinking. Time is on the side of the bad guys, as Martin Luther King wrote from the Birmingham jail, but he was a titan and I am not. Neverthess, by God or whatever, I admire the titans without reservation and will help them a little if I can. 

That was Ed in a nutshell. Never getting too big for his boots.

And helping whenever he could.


Nobody will ever replace him.