Our 50th Year Icon

From Sy Safransky’s Notebook

I worship alone in the early morning, my coffee as black as the sky outside. . . . Here in the darkness I won’t be confused with a busy editor whose calls are screened, who gives generously to all the right causes, who every month assembles the wisdom of the ages on the last page of his magazine. Here I remember that so many fools like me have come and gone. We eased out of bed before our wives were up, sat on the floor, talked to God. How skillfully we bargained. How beautiful our words.

September 2000

When my cat Nimbus came in last night, she was wet from being out in the rain. After I dried her off, she followed me to bed and curled up between my legs. Then, purring, she drifted off to sleep. I don’t know who was happier: Nimbus at being comforted or me at being able to comfort her. This morning, when I woke up, I didn’t want to roll out of bed and get right to work. I wanted to curl up between God’s legs. I wanted a reason to purr. Then I felt embarrassed: Here I was, a roof over my head, food in the pantry, a loving wife beside me, my daughters both healthy young women. Here I was, my magazine thriving, my car running, my legs able to carry me up and down the stairs. Just what more did I want from the Merciful One? No more thunder and lightning? A promise I won’t get wet?

November 2006

I decided to milk the day for all it was worth, as if Time were a cow and all I needed was a bucket. But no sooner did I get started than Time swished her tail and the bright new day was gone. How could that be? I gasped. Time raised her head and looked at me with eyes so big you’d think there would be room in them for some compassion. Don’t forget your bucket, Time said.

September 2007

The year has gone by so quickly. Or maybe it’s me who’s moving too fast. How often, as I bounce from task to task like a gymnast doing his floor routine, do I stop, take a deep breath, and open my eyes and my heart? Yet when I remember to pause, as I did yesterday, to contemplate my two gray cats lying beside each other on the bed — as beautiful a sight as I’d seen all day — how long did it take for my inner coach to grab me by the collar and point me back to the mat?

January 2004

I continue to be amazed at all the bad habits I’ve picked up, as if I brought home another man’s suitcase by mistake. The oddly tailored suits. The garish ties. And that hat! What sort of man would wear a ridiculous hat like that? I try it on, and I’m surprised: it fits perfectly. I stand in front of the mirror, give the brim a little twist. I turn to the left, turn to the right. Not bad!

November 2000

Self-improvement is my drug of choice, more addictive than coffee, more seductive than marijuana. But the idea that I’ll be happier once I become a “better” man is an illusion. When someone I love dies, will it comfort me to remember that I went to the gym three times this week instead of two? When I die, will my daughters be heartened to know I was at my ideal weight?

August 2002

You’d think someone as productive as I am could learn how to stop worrying and be happy. But the black dogs of depression keep nipping at my heels. Women haven’t cured me. Sigmund Freud hasn’t cured me. Nor have all the self-help books I’ve read, or the legal and illegal drugs I’ve ingested, or the spiritual big shots I’ve met who’ve told me God is right over there; no, a little to the left; now back up a step; you forgot to say, “May I?” . . . How did I get stranded here: sixty-four and counting, the windows of my mind covered with grime, a roof that leaks, a door that’s coming off its hinges? A real fixer-upper, that’s what I’ve become: just perfect for an elderly gentleman who isn’t afraid of a little hard work.

December 2009

As a young man, I imagined I would become enlightened by the time I was old. But now that I’m an old man, becoming enlightened in this lifetime seems as plausible as recapturing my lost youth.

September 2007

Reminder to self: You don’t need to sound smart, Mister Smarty Pants. You don’t need to have an MFA or a PhD. You don’t need to know the answers to the ten most difficult questions. You don’t need to know what those questions are. You don’t need to make sure that everything you write is all muscle, not an ounce of fat. You don’t need to send only your best and brightest sentences into battle. If you do send them, you don’t need to pretend they’ll win.

September 2008

Deep down I know that separateness is an illusion; that making “I” my central reference point leads only to suffering; that, despite the rational mind’s inability to grasp it, all things are fundamentally joined. Unfortunately I rarely experience the world that way. Yesterday, however, while taking a walk, I suddenly realized that everything around me, whether “animate” or “inanimate,” was alive and aware, and not just a stage set for My Important Thoughts. I stopped identifying with my mind, and the incessant chatter I generously call “thinking,” and felt myself part of a living intelligence that was more vast and magnificent than anything I could think about it. The moment came and went, as if I’d been kissed by an invisible lover, just a quick peck on the cheek before she slipped away.

March 2004

Maybe God has never been as far away as I’ve thought. I can’t say what God is. But when I stop pretending that I know who I am, God is here. When I stop insisting on my version of the truth, something reaches out for me: truer than any words, more luminous than any philosophy. This is something I’ve experienced, though I can’t prove it. I can only honor or dishonor it by how I live.

January 2000

I haven’t meditated in a while. I haven’t pierced the illusion of separateness in a while. I haven’t dissolved into white light in a while. I haven’t taken a deep breath in a while. I haven’t heard the sound of one hand clapping in a while. I haven’t looked in the mirror and laughed at my disguise in a while.

April 2013

Is it possible to live each day knowing that everything will go wrong — that everything is falling apart right now — yet remembering, too, that this in no way denies the living truth, the love at the heart of existence?

March 2002

Just give me the good news this morning, and let me hear it sung! I want glorious cantatas. I want soaring arias. I want the music of the spheres ringing in my ears. Single-Payer Healthcare Reform Signed Into Law! Scientists Discover Another World Hidden Within This World! Man Loses Virginity With Woman He Adores!

June 2010

The bills are paid, my desk is neat. If God took note of such things, surely he’d be impressed. But instead he keeps asking me the same questions: Was I too busy to cry yesterday? If I cried, were my tears for myself or for another? If I wept for my brother, what made me stop and turn away?

July 2005

I still haven’t learned to get it right. I don’t give enough to the poor, or remember to be thankful for every bite, or fully grasp what a marvelous world we’re destroying. Everything that should matter all the time matters only some of the time; everything that should never matter — well, sometimes it matters quite a bit.

February 2003

Leaving for the office yesterday, I said goodbye to [my wife,] Norma, with barely a glance in her direction. “Bye,” she replied, not looking up from her desk. Halfway down the stairs, I stopped. I’d forgotten she’d be leaving town that afternoon and wouldn’t be back for two days. I stood on the landing, contemplating the tyranny of my busy mind, which always has an excuse for rushing, for trying to squeeze an extra minute or two out of the day. . .  . I thought about what I lose by not making every hello and goodbye more conscious. I shook my head. To let love die from a thousand acts of neglect — man, that’s a funeral I don’t want to attend. I bounded back up the stairs.

October 2004

You can never go wrong with thank you. Since I woke up with a headache, I can be thankful I have a head. I can be thankful my head is where it belongs, that I’m a man with a head on his shoulders and not up in the clouds. Does my head hurt because I stayed up late last night drinking wine and smoking marijuana with an old friend? Thank you for the vineyards. Thank you for the seedlings, and thank you for the buds. When I got home, Norma was sleeping. Thank you for the moonlight on her long, dark hair.

June 2011

The challenge of running The Sun continues to occupy me. Sometimes it occupies me like a conquering army, sometimes like the Holy Ghost. Either way I’m grateful for the chance to do this work month after month, year after year — a man happy to have found his cross to bear. Yes, even living your dream can feel like a burden now and then. But, my oh my, to live your dream! And not just when you’re sleeping, but every morning when you open your eyes. Then you sit in the dark and write a few words. Then the sun comes up.

May 2006