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The Sun Interview

A Rage To Live

An Interview With Leonard Kriegel

The young Leonard Kriegel’s dreams of baseball glory — not to speak of a normal life — were steamed away at age eleven in the daily hot-water immersions that failed to restore the use of his legs, which were paralyzed by polio. The virus that struck this country in 1944 sentenced the Bronx boy to life in a wheelchair or on crutches , and transformed a hopeful home-run hitter into a writer and teacher determined to challenge the limits of his condition. In robbing him of his ability to run or even walk, Kriegel says polio in return gave him “a writer’s voice” and taught him “how to see and what to look for.”

Essays, Memoirs, & True Stories

Falling Into Life

Over the past five years, as I have moved into the solidity of middle age, I have become aware of a surprising need for symmetry. I am possessed by a peculiar passion: I want to believe that my life will balance out. And because I once had to learn to fall in order to keep this life mine, I now seem to have convinced myself that I must also learn to fall into death.

Before The Fall, The Fullness

My son Josh once wrote me a letter in which he described hiking alone in the mountains of Ecuador, fourteen thousand feet above sea level. The tiny lights of a village shone below him, and the snowcapped cone of a volcano was visible in the distance. “The stars and planets are incredibly low, large, and brilliant here,” he wrote. The tone of his letter was ecstatic, like Sufi poetry — love and immanence spiced with joy. As I read it, I could see him with his large blue backpack, his T-shirt and faded shorts, his tanned face and his dark hair in need of a cut. I imagined him stopped in the middle of a path, eyes raised toward the great light show above, then walking on a bit, tripping occasionally because he was looking up, but not falling. I recall this image often: Josh’s eyes full of stars; those emblems of heaven humbling themselves to meet him halfway; the boldness of my son’s unfolding heart.

A Good Enough Daughter

I was hopeful as I drove my parents’ snow-covered car from their house in Shaker Heights to the Judson Park Retirement Community, where they now resided, at the edge of downtown Cleveland. After several months, Judson still seemed satisfactory to me. The apartments for Independent Living were light and comfortable, overlooking either a landscaped hillside or the downtown skyline. In the spacious Fisher Dining Room, with its crisp linens and fresh flowers on every table, friendships and love affairs flourished, inspiring the same gossip and backbiting as anywhere else. Even in Nursing, where the rules were restrictive, the aides seemed competent and kind, the administrators responsive to their charges’ needs. I considered my parents lucky to be able to afford such a place, though I knew it made my frugal father suffer to see the savings of a lifetime sucked rapidly into Judson’s coffers.

Fiction

Tapenade

Three weeks after my father came home from the hospital, I started stealing groceries. It would surprise you how easy it is: so long as you have a full cart, they never suspect you. I’d get the cheap things first — bread, milk, vegetables — until the cart looked full. Then I’d reach out and swipe the luxuries: artichoke hearts, capers, fresh cheese. I’d stick them into my pocketbook, my mother’s Coach pocketbook, which I now wore. It was huge and cavernous, so big and inviting it was as if the expensive groceries jumped in there on their own.

The Bribe

Grace and I had agreed to pick up Paul at the airport in Guatemala City. Suzie, Paul’s girlfriend and our fellow Peace Corps volunteer, had to build chicken coops in a village near Santiago and couldn’t leave in time to meet him, so she’d asked us to go in her place. Paul didn’t speak Spanish and needed someone to look out for him. Besides, he was bringing a bagful of novels, Suzie had told us, and we could have first pick.

Dr. Harris’s Residence

I remember being alone with my father only a few times. That person, a man, my father, was the tallest human. His hair was black, and darkness covered him in long, smooth suits, which now I recognize as beautifully tailored.

Readers Write

Rules

The community where I grew up was 80 percent Jewish, placing my family firmly in the majority. Never being one for groups, however, I looked outside the herd for friends. That’s how, at the age of nine, I found Ann, a Polish Catholic pistol and an outsider, like me.

Personal Stories By Our Readers ▸
Quotations

Sunbeams

There comes a time in a man’s life when to get where he has to go — if there are no doors or windows — he walks through a wall.

Bernard Malamud

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