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about me and my family

where I came from and how it is to be back there

I was born in Holland, Michigan, and spent my first twenty-odd years there. Although I've lived here and there in New England for the past forty years, I have strong ties to my extended family back in the Midwest. One could do worse - much worse - than to be of Dutch Calvinist farm stock.

There are, however, shortcomings. Rosemarie has been helping me to find and remedy them ever since we met and married in New Haven in 1967. She was Italian. Being Italian is a very good antidote for being Dutch.

We have one daughter, Kate. The family in Michigan - brothers Phil and Terry, and sisters Connie and Joyce - have generated a formidable tribe. I have fourteen nieces and nephews, and their children number more than thirty. Together with other branches of the family, this is enough to populate the Holland phone book with almost an entire page of Michmerhuizens.

Over the years it has been wonderful going back at holidays to house-filling Thanksgiving meals, and Christmases that involve rented facilities at the Christian Middle School where my brother-in-law Jack has taught since the beginning of time.

how there are more different kinds of people in the world than there are people

In the summer of 1959, following my first year of college, I worked for the first time away from home. I found a job as night watchman at a Catskill resort. It was called the Bear & Fox Inn, and it was on the grounds of the Onteora Club just north of Tannersville. The thickest books I've ever read were those that I used to while away the nights there: Thomas Wolfe, Thomas Mann, Leo Tolstoy, and so on.

When I stepped off the train in Holland again, at the end of the summer, all of the people at the station looked alike to me. They hadn't all looked alike three months earlier: I hadn't noticed the blond dutch features, the cultural conventions, the mores, the dialects, the accents. But over the summer I'd absorbed, without even noticing, a wide and immediate experience of other ways of being human than those I'd been raised with.

It's a lesson I've never forgotten.

how I chose to be

From the time I started reading, I've never stopped. I never even slowed down until I was well into my forties.

Well, there were intermittent breaks, when I spent a couple of years after grad school finding Rosemarie and learning to write poetry all over again. And raising our daughter Kate - loving her, showing her all the different worlds we live in from moment to moment, teaching her what things to run toward and what things to run away from - was a decades-long awakening, as though from dreams.

Reading, with the immoderate intensity and concentration that I did, was a mixed blessing. I barely noticed school - study, homework, exams, quizzes. I never learned to study because I never needed to, and I never did "homework" because it was always done by the time school was out.

But it's been fun, in my life as a grownup, discovering the real world that all those books were trying to be about, and enduring the surprise of finding how many of them were wrong, and the even greater surprise of finding a few that aren't as wrong as most of them.

I worship as a Christian, at a small church in Brookline. I wasn't sure about that during my early years: at college I adopted a bitterly cynical persona, given to writing Kierkegaardian satire on the state of the churches in Holland and on the spiritual emptiness of those who attended them. But during that same period I was reading Meister Eckhart and The Cloud of Unknowing, trying to reconcile these with the sentimental revivalism and stolid dutch farm calvinism that I had absorbed in childhood.

Philosophy - thinking doggedly and persistently on something for as long as it takes to make some progress in understanding it, so far as God grants you such progress - I have always thought of as something done before the throne of God

images from along the way

Rosemarie and myself, in 1971, around the same age as Kate and Jason are in the photograph below.
Jason, Finlay, Gabriel, and Kate on their way to London in February of 2003.
Rosemarie, in Rome, 1981
Just the two of us, in a Brookline Village Deli, in 1995.