Two men with whom my life intersected have passed away in the last forty-eight hours. The first, Howard Zinn, is, I am sure, known to most of you. Howard was for half a century and more a voice of all that is good and decent and sane on the left. He worked in a World War II shipyard before going to college, and there became deeply involved with working class movements in a way that persisted until his death, at the age of eighty-seven. Many people on the left knew Howard much better than I, and beautiful tributes have appeared from the pens of Bob Herbert of the NY TIMES and Daniel Elsberg. When I was young, in the 50's, there were few men and women of mature years on the left who could serve as role models to those of us who were unwilling to believe that to grow old was to turn to the right. For all the decades since, Howard offered young people that model.
The second man who has just died is Dr. Bertram Schaffner, who passed away peacefully at ninety-seven. Those who read this blog will know that Schaffner was my psychiatrist in the late 40's when, as a troubled teenager, I was sent to him by my parents to treat obsessive and terrifying fears of death. In ways I could never have anticipated, his life and mine crossed and recrossed. Like me, he went to Harvard at an early age [he at fifteen, I at sixteen]. Like my sister, he completed his undergraduate education at Swarthmore College in their splendid Honors Program. Like my son, Tobias, Schaffner was gay, and although he was forced to keep that fact secret for many, many years, he worked with gay patients and was among the first psychiatrists to treat patients who had contracted the AIDS virus. He was a gentle, decent man.
Erik Erikson has a beautiful passage in his great work, Childhood and Society, that can serve as a fitting epitaph to the lives of both Howard Zinn and Bertram Schaffner:
"[The possessor of integrity] knows that an individual life is the accidental coincidence of but one life cycle with but one segment of history; and that for him all human integrity stands or falls with the one style of integrity of which he partakes."
requiescat in pace