The Heart of the Matter

Chapter one. We begin our Monday mornings with the obituaries. In the opening scene of the story my father and I are sitting at the breakfast table, New York Times turned to page B9. We read aloud the headlined death announcements, pausing every now and then to gobble down spoonfuls of cereal. “Feared Albanian dictator dies of pancreatic cancer,” my father reads. I respond, “Pianist Bessie Bonnier passes away at age eighty-three.”

Beginning my morning with obituaries might seem like a morbid ritual. But the articles on page B9 are stories of life, not of death. They speak of dictators who prepared exquisite pancakes and musicians who played football with their teenage grandsons. They pay respect to human fragility and celebrate colorful lives. When I lower the newspaper I leave my apartment carrying the articles with me. I strike up a conversation with the stone-faced businessman who waits in my bus stop each morning, thinking maybe he, like the Albanian dictator, struggles with disease. I buy a muffin for the sidewalk musician in Columbus Circle, hoping someday she will be the next Bessie Bonnier. The obituaries imbue my day with a peculiar energy, a desire to appreciate the stories spun by those around me.

The obituaries have also shaped my relationship with my father. We are both writers, which means that we share the love of stories and the burden of deadlines. Evenings are busy as he writes columns and I edit articles for my school newspaper. Weekend cross-country tournaments limit the time that dad and I can spend playing Scrabble or watching Woody Allen films. But we never miss our B9 readings.

Chapter two. Turn the page and in March, 2011, my father had a heart attack. Though I spent months afterward worrying, tiptoeing into his bedroom at night to make sure that he was sleeping soundly, he emerged from the experience healthier. He began to exercise regularly, to prepare nutritious meals. He also began to focus more on relaxation and enjoyment. Adopting a healthy perspective on disease and death encouraged him to embrace every moment and to seek out new experiences. Watching my dad, I saw that reminders of human fragility can be catalysts for change.

Chapter three. Several months later my father and I were working late in the evening. News reports had predicted a lunar eclipse at midnight and I urged him to come outside with me to witness the spectacle. We suspended deadlines to stand in the middle of Broadway and allow the incandescent light of an orange moon to wash over us. I grabbed my father’s hand, overcome with the realization that we were able to stand together both in darkness and in light.

Epilogue. My father and I still begin our Monday mornings by reading the obituaries. We hold hands as we read aloud, the veins and arteries of the page pulsing upwards. Vessels alternate contraction and expansion as words charge down columns of newsprint, oxygenated and filled with energy. But after we immerse ourselves in others’ stories, we go out into the world to craft our own. We remind each other to take risks and to seek out adventure. As I write my own story, I focus on those moments when I lower the newspaper and embrace new life experiences. I do not know where my next chapter will take me. But I know that each page of my story has been inspired by my father and our morning readings. And that’s the heart of the matter.

Emma Goldberg
Age 17, Grade 12
Writopia Lab
Silver Key

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