I Am Still Every Age That I Have Been

A Wrinkle in Time

“A Wrinkle in Time” by Madeleine L’Engle

It was a big week in our household, as we acquired a new hip and celebrated a birthday.*  As a small child, you may have received a new puppy on your special day.  Others years may bring clothes for college or gifts for the new apartment. Later, you might rejoice with a new child or a special trip abroad. On occasion one might celebrate a birthday with a broken shoulder.  Now that we’re in the new hip stage (for a second time), I’m comforted by this thought of the author Madeleine L’Engle:

“I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be… This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages…the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on; to forget is a form of suicide… Far too many people misunderstand what ‘putting away childish things’ means, and think that forgetting what it is like to think and feel and touch and smell and taste and see and hear like a three-year-old or a thirteen-year-old or a twenty-three-year-old means being grownup. When I’m with these people I, like the kids, feel that if this is what it means to be a grown-up, then I don’t ever want to be one. Instead of which, if I can retain a child’s awareness and joy, and ‘be’ fifty-one, then I will really learn what it means to be grownup.”

Living through what you know and who you have been from the years of life is a way to understand current circumstances and embrace new possibilities. The quote popped into my head as I was thinking of Madeleine L’Engle and the buzz about the new A Wrinkle in Time movie that will be released later this week. The folding of space and time is at the core of the story, as is the power of love over evil. My children both read the book when they were young, and it remains among the most influential of their lives. Candice took a week-long writing class led by L’Engle some 25 years ago and returned with a copy of “Wrinkle” signed by the author to me.  I pulled it out last weekend when a colleague said she had been encouraged by my earlier note to “read when it is inconvenient” and — in the midst of our recent board meetings — began to re-read the book before the movie’s launch.  I was equally inspired by her enthusiasm, and quickly finished re-reading this wonderful tale late last week.

Signed copy of A Wrinkle in Time

A prized copy of “A Wrinkle in Time”

As Candice continues her recovery from surgery, I’m using the time to think anew about what it means to be three, thirteen, twenty-five, forty, and (ahem) more all at the same time.  L’Engle’s push to retain a child’s awareness and joy seems like a great place for all of us to begin.

Have a good week.

More to come…


*Just to be clear, the two things did not happen to the same individual.  Candice acquired the new hip (her second). I celebrated the birthday and acquired two new baseball-themed ties.  While adjusting to the new hip is an all-in family activity, I suspect that I’ll be the only one wearing the baseball ties.

Thoughts for a Birthday

Birthday Mousse

Birthday Mousse

Birthdays are funny things.  You know intellectually that you are only one day older than you were the day before. But the flipping of the year – in my case from 62 to 63 – has effects that have nothing to do with intellect and everything to do with your emotions.

In approaching this year’s birthday, I’ve been focused on the fact that life is short.  I’ve written in the past about the need to savor every moment.  However, when you truly recognize that life is short, you think about how that knowledge will change the way you live.

You begin to think about the things that matter, and the things that get in the way of the things that matter. I can only speak from the perspective of someone still in the workplace, but it is easy to find all-too-many instances from the working world that get in the way of your focus on what matters: useless meetings without agenda or purpose, process designed without thought, colleagues looking to you to do their work. I try and push back against these calls on my time whenever I see them. Technology can also be a time suck, both in and out of work.  David Sax, writing in the Revenge of Analog, quotes a time management expert who says, “You can waste time with all kinds of stuff, but the digital world provides a lot of opportunity to waste a lot of time.”  Getting sucked into the distractions of the never-ending clown show currently taking place at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue strikes me as a waste of time.  Thank God that Robert Mueller seems able to focus on the things that matter.

Paul Graham, in an essay on the topic, calls the stuff that life is too short for bullshit, which he describes as the “junk food of experience.”  Amen.

I have found that the things that matter are often focused on — and around — people.  I’m something of an introvert, so I sometimes have to push myself to reach out to others. Fortunately, I have (almost) never regretted the time I find to focus on others:  family, friends, colleagues, people much younger than me, those in need, the exceptionally talented, the wise elders, the total stranger.  It may not seem substantial, but breakfast with a friend can very much matter.

A breakfast birthday

A birthday breakfast from an earlier year

Being intentional in seeking out the things that matter is a good way to avoid the junk food of experience. That also helps in pushing you to do more of what matters right now.  As the new year began, I started a list of “50 things to do in 2018.”  Some were major, others were simple, but they all mattered to me and I wanted to do them before too much time passed.  Reaching right now for the things that matter is another key to living with the knowledge that life is short.

Graham ends his essay with the following:

“Relentlessly prune bullshit, don’t wait to do things that matter, and savor the time you have. That’s what you do when life is short.”

That sounds about right.  I hope your birthday, whenever it happens this year, gives you a renewed chance to do the things that matter.

More to come…


Lesson #61: You Never Know…

60th Birthday

An early 60th birthday celebration at Herbsaint in New Orleans.

Earlier this week, two colleagues and I were “stranded” in New Orleans because of multiple flight cancellations back to DC.  Monday evening they surprised me by taking me out for an early birthday dinner at a wonderful restaurant called Herbsaint – which just happens to be where the husband of the former executive assistant who made a cameo in my 60 Lessons From 60 Years (Lesson #18) now works.

One of those colleagues just sent the following message:

I was struck by the juxtaposition of the two images…of David’s celebrations. I think the takeaway is that you should always go ahead and have the deep fried lamb neck, dirty rice with sausage, fantastic pinot, and decadent dessert when you have the opportunity. You never know what comes next!

60th Birthday celebration

Celebrating my 60th birthday, along with my fractured shoulder and new sling

I think I’ve just discovered Lesson #61.

More to come…


Fat Tuesday Birthdays…

Birthday Breakfast Fruit

…are MUCH better that Ash Wednesday birthdays.  Trust me, I’ve had both in my life.  So when this year’s special day fell on Fat Tuesday, I decided to celebrate by…eating! (What else?)

Three meals out, and three delicious and artful Happy Birthday treats.  The first one, shown above, was courtesy of my boss, who felt bad that I had to attend a business breakfast on my birthday.  Thank you Stephanie!

Birthday Cheese 03 04 14

The second one – a delightful cheese tray – came courtesy of the fabulous Iron Gate Inn.  I’ve had two meals there in the past three weeks, and it is quickly becoming a favorite.  If you don’t believe me, read Tom Sietsema’s review in the Washington Post.

And the last one…

Birthday Mousse 03 04 14

…was this fantastic chocolate bourbon mousse, topped with fresh whipped cream, shaved chocolate, and raspberries.  This flavorful concoction was Candice’s creation. Thank you, my love!

And with that, it is very appropriate that Lent begins tomorrow.

More to come (but not too much more for the next couple of days!)…


It Was Twenty Years Ago Today

Andrew and Claire with DadOn a bright, clear, and wintery Sunday morning – December 20, 1992 – two infants, each barely over 5 pounds in size, entered and forever changed our world. Of course, we didn’t know it at the time, because we wouldn’t learn of their birth from the adoption agency until the next morning. But when I heard that they were born around 11:50 a.m. (and Claire will know who came out first and how much older that twin is than Andrew), I recalled that at the  very moment of their birth I was singing the ancient carol There Is No Rose of Such Virtue on the last Sunday of Advent.

Knowing that their birth mother could deliver at any time, we were certainly – in that Advent season – looking forward to those births. And we’ve been singing ever since.

Claire and Andrew came home with us on January 14, 1993. They received a royal welcome from friends and family, who decorated the house with balloons, left strollers and diapers on the front porch, and brought food over by the boat load. It was a good thing, because we were outnumbered.  Twin infants and two adults…thank God the reinforcements arrived soon!  (Candice’s mother was on the scene within the week, followed quickly by my Mom and sister Debbie.)

Baptism  with the Godparents1993

A good friend – and mother of twins – told us the story that on her girls’ first birthday, she took her nightgown – which she had rarely taken off over the past 365 days – and burned it in a rite of passage ritual on the backyard grill. We didn’t do anything so drastic in December 1993, but we certainly understood the impulse. What a handful twins can be when they are young!

A meal in Staunton

Through the years it became obvious that we were blessed with two wonderful, talented, beautiful, and intelligent children.  I can say all of that without sounding boastful because they don’t share my genes! But I can’t imagine loving any child – biological, adopted, step, or otherwise – anymore than I love these two beautiful people.

Andrew's first haircut

Claire at Kanuga 1995

To watch them grow into the wonderful adults they’ve become has been the joy of my life. I remember each phase of that growth, knowing that it wasn’t always easy (for them or for us), but secure in the knowledge that they were surrounded by love.

Baking Cookies

Claire on her slide...a favorite activity when she couldn't get outside

Andrew and Mom dance at Uncle Andy and Aunt Robin's wedding

Our traditional birthday celebration – once we got past the “invite over the entire pre-school” phase – was to go to a Japanese steak house for dinner.  This began in elementary school, when Andrew and Claire visited their local restaurant while studying Japan.  They thought it was the neatest thing in the world to see the chef toss an egg in the air, break it with his spatula, and then cook it right before their eyes. And the great thing about these guys…they were still clamoring for the traditional celebration when they were 18 years old. They have a wonderful way of holding on while still moving forward.

Hiking at Wintergreen with Dad

Hiking at Wintergreen with Mom

From day one, Andrew and Claire had their different personalities and interests. We always called Claire our “outdoors girl,” because she loved being out of the house. We still call her that today. Claire, the swimmer, is up at 6 a.m. to get in two hours of practice with her college swim team in an outdoor pool in Southern California before breakfast. As for Andrew, I always said that he had perfect pitch coming out of the womb. He loved music, melody, and rhythms, and we spoke of his “math/music” mind that got the theory but also the art.  Every time he opens his mouth to sing – and he’s doing a lot of that in college – I am transported by what comes out.

First day of kindergarten

When they headed off for kindergarten, I somehow knew that college wouldn’t be far off.  But the time has flown by even faster than I could have imagined. My advice…hug, laugh, cry, savor every chance you get.

The Dancer and Harry Potter

The Brown Family 2004

Claire and Andrew will be thankful that I’ll spare you many pictures of the middle school years.  I’ve just included the one above because it captures us in 2004 – when they were 12 – with our old girl Lilly. Claire was the instigator of getting a dog, and Lilly – a Sussex Spaniel – was a big part of all our lives for about 9 years. Saying goodbye to her in 2009 was one of those life lessons that every child works through, but it was especially hard on Claire and Candice. Everyone loved Lilly, but they had special bonds.

Andrew 2010 by Claire

Claire Self Portrait 2008

Claire took up a strong interest in photography when she entered high school, and one of my favorite pictures of her is the self portrait above that she took in 2008. She has always had the most expressive eyes.  As an infant, friends and family would comment on how those eyes would fix on you and capture you with their intensity and beauty.

Claire &  Andrew at the Cappies 2009

At Mohonk Mountain House 2010

Andrew at the Ocean in South Africa

Claire in Stockholm Ice Bar 2012

I’ve often said I want to change lives with my children. Before they reached 20, they had traveled to South Africa, Sweden, Spain, Northern Ireland, Mexico, Costa Rica, and all over the US. Hell, I’d never flown in an airplane until I was in college! Life is different these days, and I’m so glad we were able to give them the opportunity to learn more about some of the other people who inhabit this planet.

So here it is, twenty years later. And guess who won’t be home for their birthdays. Yes, the crunch of exams and the desire not to fly cross-country on her birthday pushed Claire’s arrival home back a day.  Once he heard that his sister wasn’t going to be around for their birthday, Andrew bailed as well and went to visit a friend in Boston.  We’ll see them both on Friday, and who knows, we may even find ourselves in a Japanese steak house over the weekend.

As I was lamenting my fate of having the children out-of-town for their 20th birthdays, a very wise friend told me the quote, “When they’re little, you can manufacture quality time. When they’re older, you just need to be there when it happens.” This is a passage for Candice and me.  But I do know that they will appreciate it when we are there for them.

So Happy 20th Birthday Andrew and Claire!  You can’t imagine how you’ve enriched my life over the past two decades.  I love you and can’t wait to see you on Friday – the 21st.  I’ll apologize now for putting up these pictures you’ll hate and for telling the world how wonderful you are, but I don’t really mean it (the apology, that is).  And I’ll end this post with the same song that brought you into the world.

I love you.


Claire on the Chesapeake Bay

Lesson and Carols at the Washington National Cathedral 2010

First Day of School Senior Year of High School 2010

Andrew's High School Graduation

Claire's High School Graduation

Andrew and Claire on the Front Porch

A Note of Thanksgiving As I Enter My 58th Year

I had difficulty getting out of bed today…the last morning wake up of my 57th year.

For some inexplicable reason my life is full – on the verge of overflowing – on the eve of my 57th birthday.  (I had to ask Candice, and she confirmed – when you turn 57 you are beginning your 58th year.  I never was great at math.)  First and foremost, Candice is wrapping up her stay in the hospital after successful hip replacement surgery on Wednesday.  We head home today to continue the recovery.  Both children are getting ready to go overseas (Claire by herself to Sweden; Andrew to Costa Rica) over spring break. Yikes!  How did that happen? My sister texted me last night to say my father went to the emergency room with a lung infection, high enzymes, and low sodium…and the news got worse when she called to say he had a mild heart attack this morning. I just spoke with my brother and Dad just came out of surgery where they found 95% blockage in one of his arteries. We think all will turn out well, but this is not what you want to hear for your 86-year-old father.  In addition, one of my brother-in-law’s closest friends was in a devastating car accident earlier this week, where her mother was killed and she’s facing a long recovery period after a seven-hour surgery.  On top of it all, work remains full of challenges and opportunities.

Lying in bed, I was letting all of this get me down.  Showering and breakfast helped, but it wasn’t until I was on my way to the hospital this morning that I fully realized how sorry I was feeling – for Candice, for Dad, for Janice…and, yes, for me.

Then I thought of the wonderful bumper sticker we saw in Northampton, Massachusetts, during our college visits a couple of years ago:  the one that says “Just Say NO to Negativity.”

That woke me up!

So I did a mind game to turn things around:  with all that is weighing on me, what was I thankful for entering my 58th year?

Family and Friends:  I have a wonderful family – both our core family and the extended one.  I’ve been blessed with a wife and children who love me unconditionally – which is a hard thing to do at times. Their talent and capacity for goodness amaze me. My father was one-half of an amazing set of parents who believed in grounding us in values but allowing us to find our own way and our own values as we grew into adulthood. Our extended family is always there for each other.  Today I’m especially thankful for my two sisters and brother who live near my father and are watching over him. We have friends all over the country who stay in touch, look out for us, and enrich my life every day.

Health:  First of I’ll, I’m thankful that I’m relatively healthy.  Yeah, I need to lose 20 pounds or so, and I really do need to get that toe on my left foot checked out, but day-in and day-out I have no complaints. Our children are in great health – and Claire is especially rock solid after a strong year of college-level swimming and the workouts that go with it.  Mostly this year, I’m very thankful for the health care that we’ve received.  Candice had wonderful doctors and nurses at the neurological unit at Rhode Island Hospital following her fall last August.  Back home, Dr. O’Connor, Dr. Herzfeld, and now Dr. Durbhakula have been a terrific team in leading Candice back to full recovery.  Down in Tennessee, I’m thankful for the cardiologist at Vanderbilt who is checking out Dad’s heart at the moment.

Work:  I have a job that I enjoy and that brings meaning to my life.  My colleagues at the senior management level are all terrific professionals who know their work.  I’m learning from them every day.  The staff throughout the National Trust combine passion and skill in ways that are inspiring.  We get to help save some of the most important places in America – what could be cooler than that!  I have former colleagues and friends from the Trust and from all my previous jobs who continue to enrich my life and work.

Art:  We’ve indulged Candice’s love for theatre and film this year – and to my amazement I’ve loved it!  Among other things we’ve seen War Horse in New York City, Oklahoma! at the Arena Stage, and eight of the nine Best Picture nominees. I think back on some of the great music I’ve heard over my 57th year: Andrew’s senior voice recital, his debut in opera at college, and his role in Hairspray – as his yearbook says, Andrew will be Corny Collins when he grows up!  Wonderful IMT performances  throughout the year have fed my love for acoustic music. And in looking ahead, I have tickets to Merlefest for next month, and that’s always a treat!

Enough Stuff…but Not Too Much: I just noticed that none of the things listed above has anything to do with stuff.  I’ve learned from family that stuff doesn’t matter.  We have a home that could fit in the Not So Big House series.  It is just right for us.  The 11-year-old car just passed 170,000 miles, but still seems to get us around.  Someone recently told me I HAD to get a high-definition television because of my love of sports, but the television we have works and now when I go to a hotel I get a treat with the HDTV.  I have two guitars and a mandolin and they seem to keep me busy.  We’ve been paring down, not adding stuff…and I’m thankful that we’ve kept the clutter at bay.

Hope Springs Eternal:  And on the day before I turn 57, my Washington Nationals have their first spring training game of the season – where everybody’s a champion. But the Nats have the look of a good – if not great – team this year. For the first time in my life I went in with friends as part of a season ticket packet – so I’m guaranteed to see 8-10 games.  I’m with Annie Savoy: I believe in the Church of Baseball.

With March 4th on the horizon, I’m not feeling old.  But as a wise person points out, not too many people live to be 114 – so 57 is a little high in the “middle age” bracket. Birthdays put you in the frame of mind to think a bit about age, I suppose.  As Daddy likes to say, “Getting old isn’t for wimps,” and all the things swirling around in my life today seem designed to reinforce that fact. But whatever comes, I’m thankful for what I have and – most importantly – for the people who have made, and continue to make, my 57 years so rich in love.

More to come…