Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Good News From the Invitation Box

There’s a box in the closet in my study that has the invitations or bulletins from most of the weddings I went to during the 1980s.

I keep this box for reference purposes. And last week I checked it to see what time my sister-in-law got married. Since it was a Sunday wedding, it had to have been in the afternoon, after the regular service, and finding the invitation would tell me for sure. I didn’t find the invitation, but while I was looking, I decided to do a little counting. Of all the weddings I had documentation for, how many of those marriages were still intact?

There were 17 marriages documented in that box, mine included, and of those, 10 are still going strong, one ended with the untimely death of one of the partners after almost 20 years, three ended in divorce, and three are couples that I’ve totally lost track of over the years.

If I get rid of the couples I’ve lost track of and count the one death among the success stories, we get a score of 11 to 3. Put into percentages, that’s a 79% success rate for marriage among my friends – at least the friends whose documentation I still had.

Let me say that again: 79% of the marriages I had documentation for are still intact. And these are all first marriages.

There’s an old saying that there are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics; and some of you may want to consider this as one of the third, after all “everyone knows” that half of all marriages end in divorce.

But that’s one of those statistics too, and it’s not one to be trusted. Here’s why. The figures that “everyone knows” about marriage and divorce are taken by comparing the number of people who got married in year x with the number of people who got divorced in year x. These two numbers have nothing to do with each other – at all. The people who got divorced in 2008 may have gotten married as far back as 1958, and spread equally along the 50 years between the two. For the figures to be meaningful, you have to track a group of people who got married in 1958 and see what percentage of them are still married to each other 20, 30, 40 years later.

That’s what my invitation box did, and studies that use this method tend to come up with a 60% to 70% success rate.

There’s one more thing, though. At about the same time that I got the good news from my invitation box, Larry King got divorced for the 7th time. While it’s true that most first marriages tend to go the distance, if you’re counting the sheer number of marriages and divorces, people like Larry King, Elizabeth Taylor, and  Mickey Rooney skew the figures.

But what about the weddings I went to during the 80s that I didn’t have documentation for in my invitation box? Ah…I knew someone had to ask about those. As I thought carefully and tried to remember all of them, the figures came closer to 68% and 32%. But that’s still pretty darned good!

And finally, a word for my friend whose documentation never made it into my box, but is one of the 32% of divorces. I do not in any way mean to imply that people in the 32% didn’t work hard enough, didn’t love each other enough, or weren’t committed enough. By no means! Sometimes things just don’t work out no matter how hard you try, and you sadly have to walk away from it.

But this same friend has since remarried and speaks of the joy of second chances. I firmly agree there. I know many people who found success the second time around.

And having just celebrated her 18th anniversary, I’m counting her as being in the 68% success rate for second marriages!

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

The Death of the Book

A while back I had an idea for a piece about the so-called “death of the book” that was supposedly on the horizon. Many well-known digiterati had said that with advances in portable computing, it was only a matter of time before the book, and indeed printed literature as we knew it, would all disappear.

And this was before the arrival, or even the announcement of the iPad.

However, like Mark Twain, I was prepared to say that the rumors of the book’s impending death were greatly exaggerated.

First of all, there’s the price factor. Sure, some of us in certain socio-economic classes can afford the latest new electronic toy when it first comes out, but for most people $400 for an Amazon Kindle is a stretch. And then to take this to the beach where it’ll get sand and water on it? No thanks, I’m leaving mine in the car where it’s safe, and reading a good old inexpensive and expendable paperback with me while I’m sunning myself.

True, after enough of the digiterati buy these devices to make the price drop, everyone and his brother will have one, and it won’t seem like you’re courting disaster to take it on the beach with you. I never would’ve taken my $400 first-generation iPod on the beach with me at Cape May. My $150 Nano (which, by the way, holds way more music than my first one did) goes with me everywhere. Perhaps one day the Kindles, Nooks, and iPad will reach this level of saturation and price point.

But the main reason I was prepared to say that the book would be with us for a long time is because I’ve heard this all before. Film was supposed to herald the end of live theater, records would bring about the end of live music, television would bring about the end of movies and radio. In the end, none of those things happened. In fact, it’s a special treat to see a live theater or musical performance. So it is with the plain old printed book. Other things may come along that are fancier and seem like they might take its place, but I’m betting that the book will be around for a good long time. I'm also betting that as time goes on, we'll see that the printed book has certain advantages over its digital cousins.

As I said, I was going to write a piece on this, but never got around to it. And then I saw Anna Quindlen’s piece Turning the Page in the March 26th issue Newsweek in which she said:
Americans, however, tend to bring an either-or mentality to most things, from politics to prose. The invention of television led to predictions about the demise of radio. The making of movies was to be the death knell of live theater; recorded music, the end of concerts. All these forms still exist—sometimes overshadowed by their siblings, but not smothered by them.
Dang! She took the words right out of my mouth – and sent them out to a much wider audience than I could ever hope to reach.

And it’s an audience that she reached mostly…by print.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Sand and Water

One of the sadder, and yet more fascinating, things I had to do in 2009 was to attend my first Jewish funeral, for the mother of one of my students.

I loved how the cantor started it by saying, “Let’s face it, none of us wants to be here today. We all have things we would much rather be doing than this.” Wasn’t that the truth.

But it was the graveside ceremony, under a tent in the snow, that really struck me. One of the things that the two daughters did was to each put a spadeful of earth from Israel onto their mother’s casket, followed by some from good old Syracuse NY. Then family members each put a spadeful of earth on the casket. Finally the rabbi asked if anyone else wanted to do the same.

There was an uncomfortable silence as many of the people from school, most of whom weren’t Jewish, wondered what they should do. Was it appropriate for us to take part in what seemed to be such a painfully intimate tradition? The rabbi must’ve sensed our discomfort, because after that awkward silence, he invited us, all of us, to put a spadeful of earth on the casket, explaining that it was a mitzvah to do so.

Later on, I got to thinking about that some more, and laughed as I considered that if they put earth from New Jersey on my casket, it would have to be decontaminated of all the toxic wastes first. Then I thought, “Nah, just have them use a bucket of Cape May sand.” After all, Cape May is my favorite beach and probably my favorite part of New Jersey.

Well, about a week ago I read an article in the April issue of The Lutheran magazine about a pastor who collects water…for baptisms. He asks family members of the child to be baptized to bring water from places that are significant to them, and that water will be added to the water in the baptismal font that day.

What a great idea, and had I known about it 17 years ago, it would've taken me to Cape May again; this time for water from the Atlantic Ocean. We would’ve used Cape May water for the baptisms of both of our daughters.

Sand and water. Or rather – water and sand. Important symbols at both ends of life.