So many people are dying right now. It’s not a cheery holiday message, I know. I’ll have to work on that. Right now though, I’m processing.
There are big deaths. I’m American enough to think of Johnny Hallyday as a fake Elvis and French enough, now, to not care, to like him anyway. Jean d’Ormesson was someone I discovered during one of my fits of pique at the French bureaucracy. I found myself wondering how a country could be at once so civil and so annoying. In a way d’Ormesson straddled both sides of the divide, writing so beautifully but in all his decades of membership, barely making a dent in the hidebound workings of the Academie Française.
There are millions upon millions of small deaths, many of them utterly pointless. It seems that a third of the world’s people, maybe half, are streaming into the territory of the other half, only to be attacked and killed along the way. When they arrive they are too often unwanted, too often left to die.
There are a few truly evil people out there, still thriving, that quite frankly I wish would die. I’m sure you can make your own list of evildoers. Evil can spread a lot farther, a lot faster than it used to. In the 19th century the Trail of Tears killed some 4,000 people, some of whom were my ancestors. There are some 120,000 Rohingya fleeing now; no telling how many have died. That’s just one group. There are so many others. Others are writing about the insanity of all this, much better than I. I’ll leave them to it.
I just learned about the deaths of two people who were very dear to me, Jack and Marilyn Zuber. I guess they are the small death equivalent of d’Ormesson’s big one. The Zubers were also well-born, well off, fairly conservative and eminently civilized. Jack was a VP of Facilities at Hughes Aircraft, a very big deal, once upon a time. I think he retired when Hughes was sold. If he ever met Howard Hughes, I am unaware of it. He was crazy about Marilyn, and completely self-effacing, so much so that in the little bit of obituary information that I found, only Marilyn’s work was listed.
I met Marilyn at work. She hired me for a job at the Urban Innovations Group, a high-minded but ragtag organization meant to provide the administrative support for those of UCLA’s architecture professors who did not have offices of their own, but sometimes had a project, and to give some work experience to the architecture students. Marilyn was the office manager. She hired me when I was living in a house that probably should have been torn down, when I was so poor that I couldn’t actually afford the gas money to go to the interview. I was the staff. I had no clothes, no office skills, nothing, really, but a useless degree and Marilyn’s faith in me. Over time my life and office skills stabilized. Marilyn decided I should move on, so she moved mountains to get me accepted to the school itself. I have no clue how much political capital she spent to get me there and, once in, to assure that I had opportunities that others would have — might have, for all I know — killed for. I worked, yes, but in a competitive profession like architecture, you also need luck. Marilyn saw that I had it. We stayed in touch. At every opportunity she told me I was brave and strong and that she loved me. For my entire life, until I met Robert, I heard that only from a great-grandmother who died when I was eight. So for decades, Marilyn was my emotional lifeline. Now she is gone.
When I look around at who is left, I see plenty of decent people. However I worry that we are becoming marginalized. I don’t know what to do about that. I take care of my little corner of the globe. I am kind to my assigned grandchildren. I worry about the world that is being left to them and I wonder how they will cope, where their luck will come from. They’ll have to be a lot braver and stronger than I have been and they will need a great deal more luck. We shall see.