That Horrible Morning

It has been said so many times it has become almost banal. But it is true. Nearly everyone remembers where he or she was on that horrible morning fifteen years ago. You probably do. I certainly do.

I was about midway through my morning shift as the National Correspondent at ABC News Radio in New York City. Shortly before 9AM…no, let us be precise…at 8:47 am, I had left my desk and was walking through the newsroom. Several television monitors were suspended from the ceiling, all tuned to various TV channels. One of them was showing the image from a fixed camera position in lower Manhattan. Some of the local TV stations sometimes used that shot as background for weather forecasting.

longThe image on that bright, beautiful, September morning included the twin towers of the World Trade Center standing tall and proud against the brilliantly clear and cloudless blue sky. As I strolled past the assignment desk, I glanced up at that TV monitor to see smoke billowing from the upper floors of the North Tower.

“Guys,” I said aloud to no one and everyone in the room, “I think the World Trade Center is on fire.” As one, everybody whipped their heads around to look at the monitor. Someone said, “It looks like a plane might have crashed into it.” I remember thinking, “Oh man, some pilot, if he survived, is in big trouble.” Then everything began to happen very quickly. Our assignment manager commanded, “Hickey. Special report!” The newsroom was lined with several sound-proofed studios from which our newscasts were broadcast. But the newsroom itself had a special cubicle outfitted with a microphone, headphones and a control board, which allowed us to go live coast-to-coast on the full radio network at any moment and within seconds, if necessary.

At 8:50, just three minutes after first seeing the smoke, I was on the air with the first of many special reports by several ABC reporters and anchors over the next several days. There was little to report in that first broadcast. All we knew in the moment was that one of the towers of the World Trade Center was on fire and it appeared that a small plane had crashed into it. At exactly the same time, President George W. Bush, visiting an elementary school in Sarasota, Florida, was being told essentially the same thing by his Chief of Staff. We would all soon learn the full extent of the awful tragedy what was unfolding before our eyes.

The timeline of that frightful day has been chronicled meticulously in the intervening years. We know now, for example, that the plane had smashed into the tall building at 8:46am, one minute before we spotted the smoke on the TV monitor.  And we now know, of course, that it wasn’t a small plane.  It was American Airlines Flight 11,  commandeered by terrorist hijackers, that had smashed into floors 93-99 of the North Tower, killing everyone, passengers, crew and hijackers, onboard.

The newsroom was, by now, on full alert. One of the broadcast studios was always used for long-form programs and extended, or “wall-to-wall,” coverage of certain events. At 9:00, I began what would become days of “wall-to-wall” coverage of the 9/11 terrorist attack. Long form programming takes several people to produce. Besides the on-air anchors, there are producers, engineers, bookers and desk assistants to co-ordinate interviews and handle all the details of a major broadcast.

One of the first interviews was with an eyewitness, Brian Lutz, who was on the phone, he said, from a high-rise building a few blocks from and within sight of the World Trade Center. As Brian was describing  the scene from his vantage point, the fire, the smoke, the people leaping to their deaths out of the building, I saw something else strange on one of the TV monitors in the studio. It another big plane approaching the twin towers. My immediate thought was that it was some kind of military aircraft moving in for a closer look. It disappeared behind the South Tower and, within seconds, a huge ball of flame and debris erupted from the side of the building facing the camera. This time it was United Airlines Flight 175 that, at 9:03am, another group of  hijackers had turned into a terrorist weapon.

From where he was located, Brian could not see the plane. But he did see the hellish explosion out of floors 75-85 of the South Tower. He interrupted himself in mid-sentence and began to shout, “Oh my God! A huge ball of fire has just exploded from the South Tower!” He went on, describing the color, the size, south-tower-2the intensity of the blast. I interrupted him to exclaim, “Another plane has just crashed into the second tower!” I started to say more, but then realized that Brian, who was still talking,  was doing such a good job detailing what we both were seeing, I shut my mouth and let him go on. The recording of that moment has been played repeatedly on various broadcasts over the years. A nationally syndicated talk show host used it as an introduction to his show just a couple days before the 15th Anniversary of the attack.

That day, September 11, 2001, wore on with one atrocity after another. I was stunned, as was everyone else, by the monstrous developments that seemed to never stop. I stayed in the broadcast studio all day and had to keep reminding myself to stay calm, be professional.  I had an editor who once told me, “The hotter the story, the cooler the language.” I had to remain very cool that day.

Images of 9/11 remain burned in all of our brains.  There are other images of the days following the attacks that are equally vivid for me. I would commute to work from my home in New Jersey through the Lincoln Tunnel under the Hudson River into Manhattan, arriving  well before sunrise for the early morning shift. As commuters to New York City know, when you approach the Lincoln Tunnel from the Jersey side, you traverse a 360 degree circular and downward slope to the tunnel entrance. At one point in that roundabout you are looking directly at debris-2where the Twin Towers once stood. For weeks, in the pre-dawn darkness, that site in the distance was lit by powerful lights as search, rescue and recovery efforts continued. All the while, smoke and ash continued to rise from the mountain of rubble, silhouetted and highlighted by the lights. It was a vision of Hell.

 

The Princess and The Saint

It was 19 years ago this week that Princess Diana of Great Britain was killed in a car crash in a Paris tunnel. It was 19 years ago next week that Mother Teresa of Calcutta died. Their twin deaths triggered one of the more bizarre episodes in my journalistic career.

Labor Day weekend in 1997 had been peaceful and pleasant. August 31 fell on a Sunday that year.  My wife and I were at our neighbor’s home enjoying a bar-b-que and a dip in their swimming pool. Some time during the late afternoon I ran home, next door, to change into dry clothes.

When I entered our house, I noticed the little red light on our phone answering machine was blinking. Remember, this was way before smart phones and texting. Listening to the message, I heard my boss at ABC News Radio say that Princess Diana had been in a serious car crash and instructed me to call the newsroom as soon as possible. When I did, the boss, Chris Berry, told me that Diana had been critically injured and, at the time, it was unclear whether she would live. Then he said, “We need you to get to Paris!” I said, “Sure. When?” Chris said as soon as possible. He told me the staff was checking on available flights and he would get back to me.

I returned to our neighbor’s house and told my wife, and everyone else there, “Hey, guess what? I’m going to Paris.” After a moment or two of silence, they all started laughing. “Yeah, right,” they said. “Have another hotdog!”

“No, really!” I protested. “I have to go back home and pack, right now.” Then I told them what had happened and the laughing stopped. My neighbor wondered how I was going to get there and didn’t I have to make plans and didn’t I have stuff scheduled to do during the following week and wasn’t all this happening too quickly? My wife, long since accustomed to life married to a journalist, just shook her head and told our friend not to fret. This happens all the time.

Returning to our house, I called the ABC newsroom back and was told the next direct flight to Paris wasn’t until six o’clock the following morning out of John F. Kennedy airport. “OK,” I said, thinking this gave me more time to get ready. “What’s the airline,” I asked?  “Air France,” came the answer. “All right, which flight?” I remember there was the just the slightest pause. Then Chris said, “The Concorde.” I thought I heard envy in his voice.

The Concorde. This was three years before the Concorde crash in 2000 and, at the time, was considered among the safest planes in the world. It was also the fastest passenger plane in the sky. It could travel at more than twice the speed of sound, more that 1300 hundred miles per hour. This would be the second time I would fly aboard a supersonic passenger jet. The first time was with Pope John Paul II several years earlier. But that is a story for another blog.

When I arrived at JFK airport early the next morning, I went straight to the Air France counter and informed the ticket agent that I had a seat booked on the Concord. After checking her computer, she said, “Yes, Mr. Hickey. We have your name here. That will be four thousand dollars. How would you like to pay?” I think I blinked a few times and finally stammered, “Four thousand? Hasn’t it already been paid?”

In those days, when we were assigned stories to cover in distant locations, the company’s travel office would make the flight arrangements and prepay the tickets. The Princess Diana story was breaking so rapidly, plus the fact that it was a holiday weekend, it meant no one had taken care of that little detail. Well, I thought, I have to get to Paris. So I pulled out my credit card and handed it to the agent, thinking this is one expense report I would turn in very quickly for reimbursement.

After securing my ticket, I called the newsroom and informed the assignment manager on duty, Jon Newman, that the flight was on time and that I was about to board. Jon said word had now come through that Diana had died and he asked me to call again as soon as I landed at Charles deGaulle Airport in Paris. I told him I would.

A short time later, the Air France Concord was rumbling down a taxiway. I say “rumbling” because, in truth, the Concord wasn’t all that comfortable. It could accommodate around a hundred passengers. The seats were small, the aisle was narrow. The Concord, really, looked like an out-sized silver pencil with wings and a funny looking nose. But it was fast. Really, really fast. That made it cool.

We took off, well, like a rocket, quickly leaving the New York landscape far below. The plane had a digital Mach Meter mounted on the front bulkhead so we could see how fast we were flying. It was fascinating to watch the numbers increase from Mach .4 to Mach .6 to Mach .8 and, finally, Mach 1, the speed of sound! By the way, when you break the sound barrier, you don’t hear anything. At least I didn’t. No big boom. No big shaking of the plane. When you are faster than the speed of sound, the noise is all behind you.

Exactly three hours and 21 minutes later, we were wheels down at Charles deGaulle. While waiting for the luggage to arrive, I called the newsroom again. Jon answered. “Hey, Jon, it’s Hickey,” I said. “What?” Jon exclaimed. I could feel him looking at a clock. “Haven’t you left yet? What’s the problem?”

“Jon,” I said, “I’m in Paris. I’m at Charles deGaulle, waiting for my bags.” Jon was stunned. “You’re there? Already? Holy Cow!” Or something like that.

The next few days were spent covering the story of the crash, how it had happened, the investigation, finding out information about the paparazzi who had chased Diana and her companion Dodi Al Fayed in their chauffeured limo, which crashed in a Paris tunnel at a very high rate of speed. Soon, however, the focus of the story moved to plans for Diana’s Royal funeral, and I moved from Paris to London.

On the day of the funeral, my radio colleagues and I covered the event with live reports throughout the day, describing the majestic and  solemn ceremony.  The day before, September 5, 1997, the world got word that another woman of fame had died. Mother Teresa, who some call the world’s most famous nun, died of a heart attack at her order’s headquarters in Calcutta, now known as Kolkata. In midst of the hectic preparation for broadcasting Diana’s funeral, one of our managers said to me simply, “Hey, Hickey, do ya like curry?” The day after Diana was laid to rest, I was on my way to India.

The differences between the funerals for Mother Teresa and Princess Diana could not have been more stark. Nor could they have been more similar. Diana’s was full of the might and majesty of a Royal Funeral. Heads of state from around the world attended. Mother Teresa’s funeral was simple and austere, as was her life. She, too, was surrounded by influential world and religious leaders. But she was also surrounded by the poor to whom she had devoted her life. It was in the dignity and the love shared by so many that their funerals were so similar.

That is why, nearly two decades after their deaths,  Princess Diana is remembered so fondly by her subjects not only in Great Britain, but throughout the world. And that is why Mother Teresa, who at her funeral mass was called “God’s gift to Calcutta and the world,” has been canonized as a Saint by Pope Francis.

 

 

 

Journalistic Trauma:Vicarious and Direct

Recently, the online video clearing house “Storyful” published a video of its employees expressing feelings of revulsion and repugnance about horrific scenes of violence they must watch in the course of their jobs. Storyful, headquartered in Ireland, gathers video from a multitude of sources around the world, including other social news organizations as well as eyewitnesses to events, and verifies their authenticity before making them available to news outlets and advertising agencies. Robert Thompson, CEO of News Corp, Storyful’s parent company says in a news release, “Storyful has become the village square for valuable video, using journalistic sensibility, integrity and creativity to find, authenticate and commercialize user-generated content.” In this day and age of terrorism, violent video is a daily bill of fare.

Not everything the screeners at Storyful see is graphic and distressing. But, much of it is.  Bombings, beheadings, mass murder, torture, natural and man-made disasters. One screener says “We witness things every day that are disturbing.” Another says, “We were just being bombarded by endless videos of civilians in difficulty, children suffering, terribly brutal content.”  Prolonged exposure to those hideously atrocious scenes, they say, can be draining. One young man offers, “Its that point where you’ve been sifting through information all day and its been coming from all points of the world. And you sit back and you sort of go, oh my God, everything is so messed up.”  Those images can not be easily unseen. One of the women in the Storyful video who watched hours of images from the massacre in Paris says,  “It is something that has tended to rear its head when I’m at home.”

What they are seeing, day after day, has a name. “Vicarious Trauma.” Sometimes called “Compassion Fatigue,” Vicarious Trauma, according to the American Counseling Association, is “the latest term that describes the phenomenon generally associated with the cost of caring for others.” It is usually equated with counselors who “become witnesses to the pain, fear, and terror that trauma survivors have endured.”

Of course, the screeners at Storyful do not come in direct contact with trauma victims. While the videos they see are horrific, their experiences are somewhat sanitized by virtue of the computer screens they use to do their jobs.  Some of them understand that. Says one, “No matter what I feel, its nothing compared to what people on the ground see everyday, and live every moment. ”

It is a point some journalists who have spent years “on the ground,” in the line of fire, have made in response to the Storyful video. They do not necessarily dismiss Vicarious Trauma. Rather, for them, the difference is a point of reference. Call it Direct Trauma. Or as John Keats, the 19th century English poet wrote, “Nothing ever becomes real ’til it is experienced.”

One veteran news cameraman puts it this way, “The CLAP of a shell nearby, nasal burning stench of days old corpses as oppose to still burning dead flesh, 35 degrees celsius (95 degrees fahrenheit), walking by dozens of  dead bodies on the ground with ice blocks on their blackened chests, the “click” of an unlocking AK, pepper gas burning your neck/forehead and you are wearing a mask, THUDS of 50 cals, an Adidas with a foot in it, half a baby, legs in the air in the rubble, silhouette of a person sitting arms out, shaking, burned flesh falling onto hospital bed……..does not translate well onto a 16:9 monitor frame with 4″ speaker.” Another journalist who has also been there says, “Its not the sights you see, but the odors you smell that make you gag.”

For me, it was the sights and the odors. And the sounds. The screams. The ravenous flys. The mess of blood, brains and body parts. It was all that and more. There were many frightful scenes I witnessed in my years as a radio and TV journalist. But the one that stands out, the one that still returns, unbidden, to my memory nearly  35 years later was in Sabra and Shatila, Lebanon.

Sabra and Shatila were Palestinian refugee camps in West Beirut. In August of 1982, I had been sent by ABC News to Beirut to cover the long running Lebanese Civil War and the resulting conflicts involving Syria and Israel. In mid-September, our Beirut Bureau got word that something important and deadly was happening in Sabra and Shatila. The reports, at the time, were sketchy. Facts were few. I was in the midst of filing live reports for our broadcasts back in New York, so we asked cameraman Brian Kelly to go check things out.

I will never forget the look on Brian’s face when he returned to the Bureau sometime later. His face was ghostly white, his eyes wide and he kept repeating, “They’re dead! They’re all dead! They’ve all been killed!” We asked him who was dead. Brian said, “All of them. All of the people in the refugee camps. They’re all dead!”

From September 16 to September 18, 1982 between 450 and 800 Palestinian men, women and children were victims of a massacre blamed on the Lebanese Christian Phalange Militia, allies of the Israeli Defense Force. The massacre was said to be in retaliation for the assassination of newly elected Lebanese President Bashir Gemayel.

Recently, Brian Kelly recalled the horror he had witnessed. “I was sitting at my desk (years later) looking at pictures of my girls and the photo morphed into images of the bloated children’s bodies I had filmed at the edge of the camp. I had climbed onto what I thought was rubble to take my shots. It was rubble mixed up with bodies. There was a bloated and burnt body of a child maybe one year old in a sitting position. I was crying and shaking so much when I filmed, it was identified as amateur footage in a 20/20 program about the massacre.”

Accompanied by another film crew, I went out to the camps to find every thing Brian had said was true, and worse. There were bodies, bloated and bloodied, virtually everywhere. There were bodies in the streets, bodies in the homes, bodies in cars, some bodies with their hands tied together, some bodies missing limbs, some bodies unrecognizable. Some victims had clearly been lined up against walls and executed. Others appeared to have been shot down running for their lives. The most wrenching scenes of all were of the bodies of parents lying  on top of bodies of their small children, as if still hoping to protect them in death as they obviously had tried to do as they died.

It is hot in Lebanon in September and by the time news of the massacre spread most of  the victims had been lying in the bright, blazing sun for two days. The smell of massive death is unlike any other odor on earth. It, alone, makes it difficult to breath. The rivers of blood in the streets and gutters had begun to congeal. The flys, thick and determined, were relentless. To say it was a nightmare is a gross understatement.

The best way to deal with trauma, the experts say, whether vicarious or direct, is to talk about it. Perhaps writing about it helps, too.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika – God Bless Africa

Recent ugly events involving police and African-Americans in our country take my mind back to a place and time where and when racial strife was deeply stitched into the daily fabric of life. The place was South Africa. The time was 1985.

 Violent protests against apartheid, the official government policy of racial segregation, were raging in townships throughout the country. In August of that year, Victoria Mxenge was being laid to rest in a cemetery near her hometown of King Williams Town. She had been confronted by four men in her driveway on the first day that month and murdered,  gunned down and brutally axed to death. Although she was among many who died during the years of South Africa’s uprising, her death assured her a special place in martyrdom, as far as millions of South Africa’s black citizens were concerned.

VictoriaVictoria Mxenge had been a rising star in the anti-apartheid movement. She was a nurse and a prominent civil rights lawyer who, at the time of her death, was defending sixteen anti-apartheid activists on trial for treason. She was a member of the Release Nelson Mandela Committee, the National Organization of Women, and the Treasurer of the Natal chapter of the United Democratic Front (UDF), a multi-racial collaboration and one of the key anti-apartheid organizations at the time.

I happened to arrive in South Africa the day after her murder, having been assigned by ABC News as the new Bureau Chief based in Johannesburg. Upon landing at Jan Smuts Airport, I phoned the staff in the  bureau to let them know I had arrived in country and headed straight to the hotel to get some rest after a fifteen hour flight from London.  It seemed I had barely closed my eyes when the phone in the hotel room jangled me awake.  It was our bureau administrator informing me that the producers of ABC’s World News Tonight had called wanting a script for a story about the murder on that night’s broadcast. 

My response was,”Sure. But first, where is the bureau and how do I get there?” After getting directions, I drove to the office to find the staff in full story-producing mode. An editor was reviewing video tape that had come in from Durban, where the crime took place. A producer was on the phone getting facts, statements and reaction from various sources. We all huddled, hammered out a script and transmitted it along with the video via satellite to New York. It was the first of 45 straight nights I appeared on World News Tonight. South Africa was big news.

A few days later, a producer, video crew and I headed for King Williams Town, nearly 600 miles south of Johannesburg. Ms. Mxenge’s funeral took place at nearby Rayi, her family’s farmland home, a dusty expanse of fields in the Ciskei, a so-called Bantustan or homeland created by the South African government for black residents as part of its segregation apartheid policies.

mourners 2The funeral was a highly emotional event. Anti-government feelings, already at a blistering pitch, were calescent and heading toward a flaming, feverous level.  Violence was on the upswing. On August 11, the day of the funeral, the New York Times reported that in Durban “witnesses said racial strife, which has claimed 65 lives since last Tuesday, erupted again near the city today.”

An estimated 10 thousand mourners attended the Mxenge funeral, a huge crowd by any standard. Her coffin was draped by the multi-colored, black, gold and green flag of the African National Congress.  A preacher, raging against the apartheid government, encouraged the crowd to resist and defy Pretoria, the capital of South Africa. “We either surrender to them or fight,” roared the preacher. “We have decided to fight.”

 While many black South Africans did join the fight, they were far from unanimous in their struggle. Rifts developed in the black community, especially between the UDF and the Durban-based Inkatha movement, headed by Zulu Chief Gatsha Buthelezi.  In black townships and homelands law and order were often kept by black policemen who reported to white supervisors. The black police officers were despised by many local residents more than were whites and the preacher told the massive crowd, “You also have two options. You either join us or we fight against you.”

That exhortation may have helped to incite what happened next, but the huge gathering of mourners was already on an emotional edge. As the funeral service ended, they began to move as one, 10 thousand strong, away from burial site, down a narrow dirt road. Many were singing traditional hymns, others were performing a Toyi-Toyi, an African rhythmic dance, stomping of feet and chants as they moved down the road.

In order to get a clear view of the size of the crowd, the camera crew and I took up positions on the top of a bus parked alongside the road. As virtually the only white people in that sea of angry and sorrowful mourners, I will admit to some trepidation as we watched the ocean of mankind flow past.

Few, however, paid much attention to our presence. Suddenly, there was a disruption in the crowd just below us. For some unfathomable reason, a bakkie, a small truck similar to pickup, was attempting to slowly maneuver through the middle of the mass of mourners. Inside the bakkie were three black homeland policemen. When the people closest to the vehicle realized who they were their anger and emotion reached the tipping point. In a frenzied blur of rage, they began to pound on the truck and to throw stones at it, breaking the windows and windshield. They crowded round so tightly the bakkie could no longer safely move.  Some of the angry men began to rock it violently. The policemen panicked. One jumped out and pummeled his way through the crowd. The driver stomped on the gas and the bakkie leapt forward, carving a path through hundreds of people, running over many of them.

As the vehicle sped away,  the policeman on foot was chased by several of the mourners throwing rocks at him. He ducked through a wire fence into an open field where the man was caught by his pursuers. One threw a large rock at his head. He fell.  They set upon him, beating and kicking. Someone had a container of a flammable liquid. Gasoline. They poured it over the man and set it on fire, burning him to death. All of this took place in front our eyes. We were stunned, staring at the thick, black smoke emanating from the smoldering body less than a hundred yards away.

The crowd, at last, began to disperse. We folded our gear and climbed down off the bus. I had been driving a rental car and had parked it just behind that bus.  When I approached it, I saw that the driver’s side window had been smashed with a rock. Pieces of glass were everywhere. I opened the door and began to brush the shards off the seat and dashboard. As I did, I felt a firm tap on my shoulder. I turned around to be standing eye to eye with a strapping young, black man. We stared at each other for a moment. Then he spoke.

“I’m sorry,” he said.

“I beg your pardon?” I stammered.

“I am sorry that I broke your window. It was an accident. I meant to hit the policeman with the rock, but I missed. I am sorry.”

I could think of nothing to say except that it was all right, no worries. We shook hands and the young man went on his way.

I stood there, stupefied. Here I had just watched incredible outrage by a frenzied crowd and had witnessed a most horrible death of a human being, yet I was getting an apology for a broken window. It seemed so out of place, out of time. It was unbelievably surreal, but it set the tone for what was to become living and working in a something like a strange 20th century bizarro-world.

Is this what it is like to live in South Africa as a white man, I wondered? How do I reconcile the understandable but unspeakable anger by non-whites with the respectful, non-threatening attitude I had just experienced? How can I appreciate the deep desire of people to  live with freedom and equality and the willingness to fight and die for that cause, but still have a willingness and ability to effortlessly live in harmony with other races?

I had been in South Africa at that point for less than two weeks. It was a lot to comprehend.

First blog post

Having reached my eighth decade recently, I began spending more time than usual doing something, I suppose, most 70 year old people do. Reminiscing.  And, not be be morbid about it, coming nose-to-nose with my mortality.

I’ve been retired from an exhilarating broadcasting career for nearly four years.  Retirement, I have concluded, is a great concept. Following the advice of many experts on age, I’ve kept busy: chairing a communications advisory committee for a local university, serving on the board of trustees for our regional, Actors Equity, professional theater, vice-president of the board of trustees for our county arts council, that sort of thing. As you may deduce from the picture above, I also launched a small voiceover business, concentrating on narrating audiobooks. I’ve completed nine of them, so far, all available on Amazon.com, Audible.com and iTunes.

One thing I haven’t done, at least in retirement, is something my friends, colleagues, my wife, my sister, even my parents when they were still on this earth encouraged me to do. Write. “When are you gonna write a book?” they would exclaim. “You traveled the world, watched history in the making, had so many experiences! You should write a book!”

I’ve made a couple of fits-and-starts about doing that. Somewhere in my computer files are the beginnings of a couple of books. One is a piece of fiction based on my family’s ancestral history. The other is sort of a memoir. But it has been weeks since I looked at either. Its seems odd to me that there they sit, collecting whatever the equivalent of dust is in the bits and bytes of a computer. After all, that’s what I did professionally for 47 years, write. I wrote for radio and television. I wrote about wars, about economics, about farmers and cars and factory workers and heroes and villains and politicians and human folly. I wrote about disasters and recovery, about soldiers and terrorists, about weather and crime and space and young people and senior citizens. I wrote news. What I didn’t write, and haven’t written, is a book.

Writing a book takes discipline. More discipline, perhaps, than I have in this retired life I live. But blogging? That is something else, I suspect. For my 70th birthday, my wife gave me a book entitled “70 Things You Can Do When You Turn 70.” It contains seventy essays brimming with advice from various authors about how to stay vibrant and relevant in this long, last stretch of life. One of those authors, Judy F. Kugel, Associate Dean of Students at Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, advises “Write Your Life.” That is the title of her essay. Judy says when she was about to turn 70 she wanted to “document the coming decade.” So, she started a blog to “share the ups and downs of aging.” She blogs (yet another new verb) twice a week and finds the exercise immensely gratifying. She tells me in her essay, “So, go ahead and join the 200 million people blogging. Blog about what interests you.”

OK, Judy, I will. And, this is the beginning. Who knows where it will lead? Maybe to a whole book?