About Me

I am Associate Professor and Chair of the History Department at the University of Massachusetts-Dartmouth. I am also the Academic Director of the Clemente Course in the Humanities, in New Bedford MA. Author of "Social Security and the Middle Class Squeeze" (Praeger, 2005) and the forthcoming "Saul Alinsky the Dilemma of Race in the Post-War City" (University of Chicago Press), my teaching and scholarship focuses on American urban history, social policy, and politics. I am presently writing a book on home ownership in modern America, entitled "Castles Made of Sand? Home Ownership and the American Dream." I live in Providence RI, where I have served on the School Board since March 2015. All opinions posted here are my own.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

I'm sure I'll get back to my usual politics-music-sports snarky blah blah shortly. I'm generally not accustomed to reflecting on my emotions in this setting, but writing seems to help a bit. So please forgive the self-obsessed intrusion.

Our beautiful dog Bogey is gone -- so fast, just a week after his 14th birthday. 

The kids are heartbroken, and Shana and I are just devastated. Those of you who have been through this before know how awful it feels. We know it will get better, but right now we just feel empty and desperately sad.  As I watch the snow cover up the last of Bogey's footprints in the backyard, I'm trying to make sense of all of this.

Grief is a strange, strange thing. When you are middle-aged, it has its own particular strangeness. Yesterday, for the first time in 22 years (my entire adult life, really -- I'm 46), I woke up in my house without a dog to greet me. This of course made me desperately sad. But it also frightened me a bit, and that one I'm still trying to figure out. Obviously some of it is the reminder of my own mortality, and how easily life is extinguished -- like blowing out a candle. But I also think it's this: it reminded me, as an emotional gut-punch, how many little things we -- I -- tend to take for granted each day.

Obviously losing souls that you love is hard, no matter how old you are, and no matter your current circumstance. 

But one of the things that seems to characterize middle age, or at least my experience of it, is the combination of two things: evanescence, and white noise.

Evanescence: many of the people you love in your 40s change quickly, and sometimes even disappear completely.

White noise: daily life sweeps you up in a surround of force that tends to make you overlook or take for granted how so much of what you have is ephemeral, contingent -- the result of fortune, timing, circumstance, and past choices you've unwittingly gotten right.

Right now, at 46, there are so many things in my life that are true, and that may not be in just a few years time. Shana is healthy, brings a hard-won wisdom to all of this that I clearly lack, and seems to think I'm a bit of alright;). My son Micah would rather play with me than with anyone else in the world. My daughter Maya cares about what I think, usually wants my help, and thinks I'm funny. I can call, text or visit both of my parents, and my mother-in-law too. Most of the time, I can trust both my body and my mind to help me rather than hinder me. How many of these things will greet me when I wake in my home 5 years from now? I don't know.

I'm not really seeing all of this through the lens of regret or remorse, at least not primarily. I don't live in the world that way, and I never have. You know those silly erection pill ads, where they say 'this is the age of knowing what you're doing, knowing how to get things done,' etc? That's true, but its also the age where we start to lose people -- and lose track of people. Its a lousy combination. And alas, we have no control over the former. We do have some control over the latter.

So, do I have any wisdom to impart on this? No not really. But when you wake up tomorrow morning, and your dog looks at you -- look back.