“There are no winners in this world,” my Uncle Moe would protest whenever I pestered him about the secrets of handicapping horses and men and politicians, “only little losers.” I was a boy of ten at the time—and even then I knew that my uncle’s talents as a handicapper were considerably less formidable than, say, the talent of a great novelist sweeping the world’s complexities into language. Nonetheless, my uncle was a man of small but decisive substance, at least where horses and boxers and politicians were concerned. Not only did he possess a formidable reputation as a man who could pick winners at the fights and at the track and at the polling booth, but he had earned his reputation in a neighborhood that took considerable pride in how knowledgeable and daring its gamblers were.
Even his aphorisms reflected how little faith Uncle Moe had in the shaping sanctions of memory, a characteristic he shared with every real gambler I know. When it came to the question of where to put his money, he was not a man who believed in systems. Sooner or later, a gambler lost more than he won. The odds made it that way, simple and sure. A smart gambler knew he was paying for the value of his entertainment. All else was accident. Experience taught my uncle that memory was no more to be trusted than any other system by which men tried to guarantee themselves winners. As a result, he had as little faith in counters of cards as he did in hunch players who bet a horse because they liked its name. The laws of the gods were mighty; the laws of the odds mightier still. In the final analysis, nature’s diciness was the only truth a man could rely on.
Still, I continued to pester my uncle for his “secrets,” convinced that he could help me structure my way through a world that even a ten-year-old knew was treacherous and mined with pitfalls. Only he would never give me what I craved, insisting that there was no fixed formula for figuring the odds. Instead, he would offer me what talk show hosts today speak of as his “life-style philosophy.” I would be better off, he insisted, if I never gambled. For the world we lived in was the same world in which he found “no winners, only little losers.” And gambling was far more pedestrian than I thought. “Go to college, Lennie. Study, learn. Get yourself a real profession. Make something of yourself.”
But that wasn’t the kind of wisdom I was searching for at ten. Not that I felt an overwhelming desire to understand the precise odds of everything I had to face as a young boy. But I pestered my uncle for the secrets of betting odds because my true hunger was to know whether I myself was up to the mark, I wasn’t really concerned with betting on horses or boxers or deciphering local politicians (“sellouts,” my uncle called them, contemptuously). What concerned me were the odds on my own future. I was, as all children are, in pursuit of an ultimate self. In that pursuit, I modeled even bodily posture and facial expression on comic book heroes whose adventures I followed religiously—Captain Marvel, Captain America, and God knows how many other muscle-bulging bodies drawn from the fantasies of middle-aged cartoonists. They whirled through my imagination in gaudy comic book color, as I devoured the pages on which my yearning for a system has been given heroic life.
Like most children, I was unsure of where reality began and fantasy ended. Had I been asked to choose between the woman I loved so passionately, Wonder Woman, and America’s pin-up of choice, Betty Grable, I would have pledged heart and soul to my comic book goddess without a moment’s hesitation. In 1943, I did not know whether, in my uncle’s way of looking at things, Wonder Woman was a big winner or a little loser—but I knew that she was what songs called “the girl of my dreams.” At ten, sex was beyond the boundaries of experience, but that didn’t stop Wonder Woman’s Amazon body from kissing my two-dimensional dreams of comic book consummation. Call it fantasy if you want—but only because you, like me, are too embarrassed to call it anything else.
I don’t think that ten-year-old boys were expected to know very much about what making love entailed back in 1943.In any case, I knew next to nothing about the subject. I had the anatomy more or less correct. And I yearned to “do it”—with whatever vague connotations “doing it” might have evoked back then—to the lovely Wonder Woman. But as with fairy tales in which frogs turn to princes, it was my own suspension of disbelief in which I was caught up. Even when I finally turned 11—a year that possesses great significance in a boy’s sexual development, or at least in his knowledge of sexual anatomy—it was her lovely image, blue-black hair like erotic hay thrust against passions I knew were illicit, that I would envision in my fantasies of sex. In Wonder Woman’s comic book hair, I discovered the lingering perfumes of hope. And why not? Even a comic book body can be made into imagination’s flesh.
In another short and painful year, that dream of sex would be linked to my own physical struggle for survival, as I was thrust into a lifelong battle against the effects of disease and discovered that I had to get used to life as a cripple. At first, my greatest worry was whether the rest of my body was doomed to die as my legs had already died. In the boy’s ward of a state rehabilitation hospital, I learned that I could live as communal a life as I had lived before polio struck. The boys in our ward, all 22 of them, shared not only comic book fantasies of sex but the prospect of a dubious future. Our job was to learn to live as cripples. And it was then that Uncle Moe’s handicapper wisdom haunted me. Worse than anything else boys in that ward experienced was that none of us knew what was expected of a cripple. Not in a world in which, despite sanctimonious public piety, we had already been branded life’s “losers.”
The boys in that ward ranged in age from nine to 13, and we shared physical pain and bodily humiliation—spinal taps, bedpans, useless limbs—as well as fantasies of sex and resurrection. And no wonder. If the long-range future awaiting us was distant and terrifying, the immediate future promised that it could be controlled with dreams of love and power. Each of us yearned to “do it” to one or another comic book goddess. And each of us was equipped with some useless bodily part that directed his fantasies—dead legs, dead arms, in a few cases, both. Fortunately, in that pre-television world, we also shared a Friday night movie, our weekly respite from the necessity of having to live with disease and its aftereffects. It was at the movies that I first began to grasp why I loved Wonder Woman with such passion. By then, I knew a bit more about anatomy and sex than I had when I lived among the normals in the Bronx.(One of the few positive things that can be said of illness is that it creates a more intimate relationship to the body, even for a child.) More than Betty Grable’s legs, more than Rita Hayworth’s succulent red lips, Wonder Woman’s body promised that what I was hungry for was what she could provide me with—the courage to endure.
Exactly why that courage should turn out to be held by a cartoon Amazon is still a mystery. There were other models I might have chosen, even other women. I could have taken my grandmother as my model. In her mid-70’s the summer I took sick, my grandmother, like so many old immigrant women, was born with the capacity not only to make fierce judgments but to carry them out. She faced God and man with neither tact nor equivocation. And if hers was the bravado of an old Jewish woman who simply did not know any better, that was already attractive to me before polio took me down. Yet I didn’t choose my grandmother. Instead, I chose a comic book queen able to impose her presence on the world. For me, that was the courage of women. Grace, glamour, beauty—in the Land of Good and Plenty, my goddess reigned in the spirit as in the flesh. While my grandmother seemed magical, she imposed herself on life the way animals do. She pushed her way through because she saw no other alternatives.
I suppose I could have found a model in Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was peddled to us as an example of what one could do in life in spite of. . . .(We were to fill in that “in spite of” for ourselves.) And to some extent, I did. Roosevelt hinted at the possibility that the future might not be quite as horrible as we boys in the ward thought. Yet truth will out—and the truth is that it was sex, in the form of a passion for a comic book goddess, that fueled my desire to make myself over. Confession is always in order when it comes to the sources of one’s courage (or one’s lack of courage). My grandmother remained untouched by America even after 25 years here, while a president, even a crippled president, was a distant figure at best. Comic book goddess or not, Wonder Woman ruled over the Land of Good and Plenty. From her throne, she would offer me what I needed—hope and the possibility of life after loss.
Memory may trifle with the way it was, yet I still feel the power of those early erotic fantasies. A boy of 12 can be horny even when he is terrified. However extravagant it may sound, I was prepared to kiss death for her sake. How do we remain honest without extravagance? I yearned not for her comic book breasts nor for her shield and buckler but for her bodily wholeness, her splendid health. The day would come when I understood that a man could endure without legs. But I could not endure without the courage of a cripple, and that day was not yet here. Like any “normal” boy verging on adolescence, I was a prisoner of needs and insecurities. If it made sense to go to women for endurance and courage, then I would go to my comic book goddess. Not a bad choice, as it turned out:
Boys who come of age with a powerful feminine inspiration, even one pulled from the pages of comic books, do not need convincing that women possess courage. Reality is what such boys are condemned to live with. I was lucky in that my fantasies blocked the brutality of “real life” until I proved ready to accept what had happened to me.
Hesperus entreats thy light,
Goddess, excellently bright.
Was it woman’s ability to endure as imagination’s savior that made my passion for Wonder Woman so strong? Was that passion typical of what men whose lives have not been changed by disease also pass through? Rhetorical questions do not demand answers. Yet men are scolded in our time for their public failures, which is among the reasons that the mass of us lead those lives of quiet desperation. In the hands of the newly liberated, the indictment turns out to be just another rhetorical ploy. How many men were even aware of the charge when Thoreau first voiced it? It occurs to me that Thoreau himself might have benefited had someone like my uncle pointed out the thin line between winners and losers. We need more than aphorism, for it is rarely language we men lack. We talk so much about gender and manhood that we are in danger of gutting the language altogether.
Yet we still indict women for their failure to soothe our fragile masculine egos. One still hears those invariable murmurs that hint at how, like Eve in the Garden, women have stolen our courage. Rarely an accusation voiced directly, yet it stands behind all those men’s magazines that have sprung up like different brands of deoderant of late. To read those magazines is to see how deep our yearning for unbridled masculinity is. Testing the self, male bonding rituals—all thrust before us like salvation’s own finger food, as if the history of manhood in America could be encapsulated by a dialogue between Robert Bly and Teddy Roosevelt. Perpetual boy scouts in the perpetual forest. Were T.R. resurrected today, he would be pleased at how ritualized his 19th-century manhood has become. Pressed to old myths, gender studies emerges as the latest literary growth industry as men are urged to reclaim courage. But from whom? And for what purpose?
Perhaps as a mark of our entry into the culture of victimization. For men are increasingly taught to see themselves as victims. A curious spectacle—angry boys storming off, like a losing college football team at halftime, to fight the gender wars during a time in which resentment is our great passion and accusation our most powerful dream. Left to stew in the imperfections of history, more and more of us focus on what has been taken away. The most painful resentment turns out to be that courage has been lost. The itch beneath our manly skins is scratched by men intent on peeling the detritus of loss from our skin as women mock us.
How else explain why the war between the sexes still is waged vigorously here in America? Is the growth of the woman’s movement simply evidence of man’s fading pre-eminence or is it truly revolutionary? Working against each other, the sexes have creates a grammar of gender in which illusory hope and false expectation vie for primacy. Status, not masculinity, is what men grieve for today, even as they bend the knee to their illusory Edens. Forget Iron John in the dungeons of Bly’s imagination. King Arthur is dead—and it’s a good thing, too. Yet like small boys reluctant to leave the circus without one last look at the clown, men woo the past, seeking a simpler, more innocent, world. No longer will the craggy face of the Marlboro Man urge us to that first puff. No longer will that first bender justify a drunkenness that had to be made public merely in order to be made meaningful. Memory and embarrassment walk hand-in-hand in our games of mannered nostalgia.
Any man who arrived at adolescence before the pill probably remembers the first condom he purchased more vividly than he remembers his first dance. Initiations into sex breed their own sentimental memories—that counter behind which the pharmacist yawned as the words Trojan or Sheik were hurled like ack-ack into a time when words still possessed the power of being illicit. The quest for sex and status were like the liquid bodies and smiling faces in a Busby Berkeley staircase-to-nowhere dance. Money clenched like cotton wadding in one’s sweaty palm, the mission was approached with grim, joyless determination.
Such visions of manhood were as defining in the 1940’s and 1950’s for adolescent boys in Indianapolis and Hartford as they were for boys in the Bronx or Brooklyn. If a drug store counter was manhood’s altar, then one approached it guardedly. Easy enough to laugh today at how absorbed we were with images of innocence, yet the scene begs for charity: it was not sex but the recognition that we were sexual beings that we wanted. Even fantasized sex demands verification. In the Land of Good and Penty, a man needed witnesses. That bored pharmacist behind the counter, the friend who accompanied one inside—they were as much part of the ritual as the crumpled bills in hand, IOU’s of hope and dread.
It is, of course, possible that courage had nothing to do with coming-of-age rituals. Maybe it would be more accurate to speak of the desperation of men as they reached for the badges they were told marked manhood. Or maybe it’s just further evidence that God had botched the job in the Garden, when He gave to women the greater portion of courage and the lesser portion of power—a smaller dowry for the braver sex. Maybe this was I Am’s way of proving that He really is an ironic God. Or maybe He simply knew which side His own bread was buttered on. We can indict God as unfair in what He meted out to each of the sexes, yet it is men who seem least sure of themselves today. Not even the most radical feminist would deny, I assume, that this is a joyless time to be a man in America. Our burgeoning sense of injustice is evident in all those aging warriors seeking manhood’s grail in initiation rites that are as embarrassing as anything Malory ever envisioned for Arthur and his Knights. Faced with manhood’s demands, not even poets are satisfied with mere words. They, too, beat the bushes for illusions of Hemingway—rifle in hand, foot on the carcass of the dead lion, and eyes on the Hollywood horizon.
It may be sad but it isn’t difficult to understand why the New American Masculinity possesses appeal. Men want to be braver than they are. And as with any idea in which gender or race is the primary currency, psychobabble bonding creates its own painful self-consciousness. Yet its rhetoric, however puerile, also tells us why men still find manhood appealing. Unable to assume traditional roles, they are expected to ease themselves into victimization. The difficulty with gender as politics is that it adopts the worst impulses of a culture in which Virtual Reality has become the dominant reality. Today’s America is the most fertile ground for what used to be called “make-believe” that the world has ever known. Our images of masculinity have little to do with what we experience. We impose military valor on a film star who did all he could to stay out of the service; we listen to debates about whether some whining overpaid athlete is a “hero.” In Virtual Reality, the times are dangerous even when they lack danger, as men try to move beyond the need to do the world by the numbers.
It’s a lesson few men master, since stalking the numbers is one of the most intimate of masculine obligations. From childhood, we measure ourselves against others in competitions in which the numbers not only dominate but frame all of our arguments. Young boys learn to compress their thoughts about manhood into an opinion survey in which they check and recheck the status of other boys, who are also defined by the numbers. In place of character, addition and subtraction. Passion resides in measurement; manhood is reduced to image and statistics.
For it is by the numbers that men define themselves. Each sheltered self not so much a double agent as an agent of memory, unfettered by the actual past. Genteel and gentile, Prufrock measured out his life with coffee spoons. The boys I came of age with in the rich ethnic stew of New York measured their lives by the numbers. With numbers, one defined everything from the size of one’s penis to how many manhole covers one could hit in stickball. The length of an automobile, the inches of muscle in biceps and chest, the size of one’s palm, the size of one’s hat—all by the numbers. Had he been born in my Bronx body, even Prufrock would have sought digital confirmations of his existence—dropping his IQ number into the honey pot licked by all the MENSA nerds, flaunting a high school average as if it were the price of the ticket, figuring out just how much money the Michaelangelo painting the women in the room were talking of would bring at auction.
Bred to a world in which even the games boys play pressed statistic upon statistic, numbers endowed the hungers and aspirations one grew up with. I knew the earned run average of every pitcher on the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1943 as well as I knew how many dollars Manhattan Island had cost the Dutch in 1624.Today, boys are more apt to know how many points per game Michael Jordan averages than the name of the nation’s vice-president. Games change, but numbers still define us. It’s an emotional Cartesianism we have learned to live with, and it tells us that the message is still in the numbers. “I can add, subtract, and multiply. Therefore, I am.”
Yet courage was never by the numbers. Examples of it abound, and none of them were more accessible than the courage of women.
Her name is not important. Not that I am ignorant of it. As names go, hers was simple enough. Judy Taylor. A name that counts as much as any name can. Names possess context, fuse themselves to time and place. Does it matter that when I met her, she was Judy Taylor but that, when I saw her again, she had become Judy Taylor Gentile? Not really. At this point, I feel uncomfortable only when I remember how much more certain I was of her name than of exactly when we met. Was it the fall of 1970 or the spring of 1971? It doesn’t matter. History was never the issue where Judy was concerned.
What does matter is the letter I received in which she asked me to speak to an organization of the physically handicapped in Michigan. I no longer recall the name of the organization, but I remember that she wanted me as the speaker because she had read an essay I had written in which I argued that American cripples would be better off if they emulated blacks and made demands on a society willing to sentimentalize them but unwilling to recognize their existence. Like much of what I wrote when I was younger, “Uncle Tom and Tiny Tim” is a bit embarassing when I reread it today. The analogy of cripple to black is too facile, and my impassioned vision of the integrated future has been mocked by what blacks and whites have each made of race. Yet I still feel grateful to that essay, for it brought me in touch with one of the more courageous people it was to be my good fortune to know.
It’s curious to write that about a woman I saw only two times in my life. We corresponded for some years after my talk to that group in East Lansing, but we had been out of touch for 15 or so years when she telephoned me in the fall of 1991.Once again, she wanted me as a speaker. Now the student counselor to handicapped students at Michigan State University, she asked me if I would speak at a university weekend intended to celebrate “diversity” in the academic world. Despite my doubts about “diversity” in the groves of academe, I knew I would agree to her request when I heard that thin reedy voice laugh and say, “I’m making you Michigan State’s official university cripple.”
She was now married, to a man who had lost control of his motorcycle and thus had entered the shadowy world she had called home for her entire life. It was a marriage that affirmed what we cripples learn early on—that spasms of ill luck and misfortune embrace us all, the best and brightest, the common and ordinary. A motorcycle is easily transformed into an electric wheelchair in a psychological economy where the winners are merely little losers. I would, Judy told me, be housed at the university for the weekend. And her husband would be pleased to meet me at the airport in his wheelchair-modified van and bring me to their house for lunch. “I’m Judy Taylor Gentile now. What’s in a name?” Laugh a giggling cough, an entry into her pride. She had made a life for herself. Counselor to disabled students, married, the mother of an adopted daughter in a wheelchair.
East Lansing had been an Oldsmobile city when I spoke there earlier, loyal to the memory of Walter Reuther and dependent upon General Motors. Only in 1992, it seemed like just another university town, the kind of place where women look askance on acquiescence to all patrymonic form. Judy was a staunch feminist. But she was also a cripple, and labels do not have much to do with the realities cripples must focus on. Her focus could not be on what her condition was called but on the acts her small, misshapen body demanded of her every day. She had no choice but to press courage to need. Where survival is concerned, patrimonic form is rarely an issue. Only those who live in normal circumstances, and with normal bodies, can afford to think of patrimony as an issue. To do that, one must claim a middle-class body as well as middle-class values.
In a nation that pretends to be classless, the cripple discovers that his life is an issue beyond class. Even a crippled Rockefeller would be a cripple first and a Rockefeller second. To be a cripple is a reality beyond the names, a condition that does not change merely because one learns to speak of himself as “differently abled” or “handicapped.” To be a cripple is to acknowledge that one is defined by disease. Judy Taylor Gentile, at whose house I lunched in 1992, was a woman in her forties, but she still looked like the college sophomore I had met 20 years earlier. A face sculpted by disease, a body fastened to a wheelchair that seemed as much part of her as her eyeglasses. Judy possessed that chair—and she was, in turn, possessed by it, as if the chair were part of her very presence. She had transformed it into a personal emblem, a triumph of necessity,
Like all who struggle with disease, Judy learned that only after she had earned the trust of language would she be able to trust reality. Like Caliban on his island, her condition enveloped her dreams of emergence—for to select from dreams was to trust the language of the normals, to place illusion in the service of resurrection. A throne burning on the water, a wheelchair defining time and presence. From the window of imagination, one seized a lasting view of the world. Yet there are some realities that not even great poetry can touch. From infancy, Judy had known that disease was definition. Hers was a citizenship painfully earned and bravely paid for.
The barge she sat in, like a burnished throne
Burned on the water
Yet like each of us, she was a citizen of the state, too. And of the world. A peculiar sense of belonging is offered cripples. Even courage may not be enough for our needs, for in that other, more mundane, citizenship, one may discover that the self is insufficiently crippled, just as one can be insufficiently black or Native American or Asian. At that Michigan State celebration of diversity, the melting pot had melted into itself. Judy understood this, too, as I learned when she asked me to make myself available to a young Hispanic she was counseling. Like us, he, too, was in a wheelchair. At a reception of the student groups that made up the college’s diversity, I watched his brooding body maneuver in its wheelchair, his dark handsome face etched in a sneer framing lips and thin mustache against a pretense of a worldliness he had neither earned nor mastered. An auto accident had cost him his legs. Paraplegia filled him with rage, and now she was trying to get him to make that rage “work for him.”
He had not yet learned his American place. Arriving at college believing that his identity could be grounded in the fact that he was Hispanic, in the grab bag that is what Americans mean by diversity, he learned that being Hispanic could go only so far. A week after his arrival, he went to join one of the Hispanic student clubs and found himself refused admission. “We got to show the Anglos that Hispanics are strong,” he was told. “How can you be strong in a wheelchair?”
Not particularly subtle. But not illogical either. As free in mind as she was twisted in body, Judy recognized entrepreneurial logic when she faced it. A body can be that which impresses others. And courage begins with the body, the source of our need for its presence. In the name of the group, even individual courage could be scorned. Groups are suspicious of the courage of individuals. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans—all wish to stand alone in the multicultural woods, aware of the priorities of their own group suffering, even as they remain purposely oblivious to other forms of suffering. Those others exist for one reason alone—to be held accountable, to be forced to recognize the pain they have inflicted. Group pride is bombastic, and its rhetoric ministers to the victim in his victimization. Yet as Orwell showed in Animal Farm, some victims are worthier than others. With diversity, issue is less important than image. What counts is being a victim. Those doomed to live in the shadowy caves Susan Sontag calls the “night-side of life” cannot compete with the rapists and child molesters and peeping Toms who entertain the nation on daytime talk shows. “Nature loves to hide,” said Heraclitus. Sometimes, nature hides behind an agenda for suffering. Hispanics must be strong, manly—Che succored by wily, determined peasants. Why not? What other use do the strong have for the weak, except as symbols?
In her politics, Judy was still pretty much where she had been in the 1970’s: an unreconstructed believer in the need for government to right the balance. Not even Senator Dole of Kansas, with his withered right hand, could keep so tough a woman at arm’s length. She had no use for that rhetoric of personal responsibility we Americans have grown so fond of during the past two decades. For she had earned her anger and needed no lectures on the cost of freedom. Or pep talks on forging her own destiny. No John Wayne guts and glory rhetoric for her, And no campfires around which to talk of the cost of courage while Jungian children suck on memory’s collective teat. No matter what price she had paid, Judy knew that she had only gotten to where she could never rest securely anyway.
But what I remember best about her has little to do with politics. What I remember is that voice. Neither pleasant nor tough, her voice brooded with pain for a world she had not made but had been forced to live in. I heard in its broken timbres the tones a brave woman creates for herself. Some years back, in Israel, I once had heard three Moroccan Jewish women ululating as they swayed in a kind of verbal unison at Rachel’s Tomb. That sound terrified me, cutting through the cool morning Bethlehem air like a snaking whip. So wild a music might bring tears to God’s own eyes. Wrapped in chadoors, those women wailed. They were barren women, our guide explained, and they were begging Mother Rachel to intercede with God and grant them children. As close to a Jewish version of what Rheinhold Niebuhr descried as “Mariolotry” as I can conceive. So total was their grief, so absolute their surrender to Mother Rachel, that I felt I was intruding on a private conversation among maniacs. And as they howled, I fled Rachel’s Tomb, fearful that my own wheelchair-bound body somehow was being violated by those grieving supplicants.
Judy’s voice was the very opposite of those howling women. I never heard her wail. Her voice hovered in the air, like a wounded bird, but it never begged. Weak, reedy—but singular, distinctive. Unlike the voices that beg, her voice demanded. As American a voice, in its way, as the voice of Daisy Buchanan, which Fitzgerald describes as “full of money.” Judy’s voice did not jingle with wealth. Nor was it toned by allure or success or power. It was not the voice of a woman who shops in Bergdorf or Nieman Marcus or Tiffany’s. It was a voice filled with pain and effort and the knowledge of how much a lifetime’s defiance had cost its owner.
And the voice of a woman seeking to define her life in a country which asks its cripples to project perpetual beggary. Watch Jerry Lewis’ next telethon if you need a reminder of how, like after-dinner mints, Americans want their stories of pain and suffering spicy enough to tingle yet sweet enough to swallow. Victims in America are defined by their dysfunctional notes. For who among us is willing to admit that the luck of the draw has gone against him? Victims make their pain accessible. A voice full of money calls up not Judy’s twisted body but the slender grace of Gatsby’s sexless icon. Money is a bell in the voices of the rich. Those three wailing women sounded the victim’s song. But in Judy’s reedy tones, one heard a different call—a brave woman’s insistence that she would resist fate down to her dying breath.
Tell me it is better to search for courage in those pup tents of boyhood fantasy where Faulknerian bears tree one’s soul. In this country, as my gambler uncle knew, there are no winners. Freud, who knew more about pain and courage than it is fashionable to admit today, had something similar in mind when he shrugged off a friend’s praise of Franz Rosenzweig’s insistence on doing his work despite a ravaging illness. “What choice does he have?” the old cigar-smoker asked. Had she heard him, Judy would have blessed Freud with her reedy voice.
She died less than a year after that diversity weekend. Her husband phoned to tell me that her end had come. As suitable an end as anyone could expect, I suppose. A struggle, a fight, another claim on the battered will to resist. Resist and you are alive. Give in and you are dead. For a woman burdened with the onerous citizenship of disease, there is no doubt that it is important to meet the end well. Pain writes our memoirs, and the competition for its Pulitzers is fierce. All those little losers are alive in the Land of Good and Plenty. Judy is dead. Yet better her example for men like me to follow than the childish rituals of manhood now urged upon us. No campfires. No myths. No bonding. Just the refusal to resign the self to its death. Brave women struggle, and in that struggle they teach men that even if one triumphs, it is only for the briefest of moments. And that should be lesson enough—for all of us.
In Memory of Judy Taylor Gentile
Reprinted from Flying Solo: Reimagining Manhood, Courage, and Loss by Leonard Kriegel. Copyright 1998 by Leonard Kriegel. By permission of Beacon Press.