Wednesday, January 03, 2007
My Grandfather Turns 100
My grandfather, Isadore, turns 100 years old in five days. Tomorrow night, I will be on the red eye flying east, composing a short, warm, funny, poignant speech in his honor, for the dinner party which will be attended by far flung family members, many of whom I’ve never met, others of whom I’ve forgotten, others still whom I’d rather avoid, considering the obnoxiously high level of worldly achievement that most of them seemed to have earned in lives more productively linear than my own. My grandfather will bask in all the attention from all these peoples, many of whom owe their chances at success to his generosity and forbearance, over the decades, as I do. What will I say, in gratitude and love to a man who has been praised and thanked many, many times over, by men and women profounder than myself? This: that from him I learned blunt honesty and character more than anything else (I certainly didn’t learn how to make money.) My grandfather probably gave away more money than he earned over the years, not only through philanthropy, but by leaving ‘money on the table’ in negotiations which I don’t believe he ever used to get the better of anyone else (he had his eye on the long-term vision of a project rather than on the short-term gains or losses that would come to those who were negotiating.) Whatever profits were to be made never mattered more than the ultimate social value of the projects themselves; and the social value of those projects was always in tune with his own deepest values—his character—which simply could not be sold. Such right alignment of self-to-world has not only kept the man alive so long, it has helped him thrive (that, and a high-powered intellect that remains imposingly flexible, deep and youthful to this day.) My grandfather, at 100 years of age, still drives to the office most days (I wish he wouldn’t) and puts in work hours that would be honorable for a person in his or her prime. I know I’ve gleaned some of the man’s character for myself. I’m counting on having inherited his capacity for work. I hope I’ve earned the trust that he made it possible for so many people to place in the family name.