Oh, my. If you have 7 minutes and 44 seconds—and who doesn't, unless you happen to be on the wrong side of a firing squad right now, and if that's true, then get off this blog for crying out loud—and if you want a major blessing today—and who doesn't, including anyone facing that firing squad, especially given the fact that it could delay the dreaded action by 7 minutes and 44 seconds, PLEASE watch this short video on my old buddy Norman Lear, where you'll learn how dancing naked in front of a mirror at age 93 just might be the secret to longevity, you'll be delighted, and entertained, and made to think about television today, and age, and loss, and learning.
Click this: http://nyti.ms/29xbgRt And then come back here if you'd like.
I first met Norman when I was 39 and he was 69. I was just beginning to do philosophy beyond the classrooms of Notre Dame, out in the broader world, and we had made contact by telephone. Can you imagine what it was like for a kid who grew up watching All in the Family and debating the issues it raised around the living room to come back to my office one day after a class and press the answering machine and hear, "Tom! This is Norman Lear! Here's my home phone number. Give me a call!" I was just astonished.
Shortly after a bunch of great phone calls, he sent me plane tickets to come visit him at his beautiful vacation house in Vermont, an old home once owned by Robert Frost, then by the abstract artist Kenneth Noland. Its grounds are adjacent to a state forest and are as peaceful as you can imagine. I spent most of a day sitting on the big front porch with Norman and the Dean of the Harvard Divinity School and his wife, and with the co-founders of Tom's of Maine, one of the most ethically and environmentally sensitive consumer products companies of our time. We philosophized all day, and through a great lunch. Mid afternoon, Norman asked me to talk a short walk with him. We ended up lying in the grass on his spacious front lawn, pondering life and creativity. And we laughed a lot.
Then, a short time later, he brought a bunch of television producers to see me speak in front of my first audience of over 5,000 people—all convenience store owners at their national meeting in Las Vegas. We had lunch afterwards and since I was going to speak the next day to the top leadership of Merrill Lynch at a retreat in Santa Barbara, Norman invited me to fly to California with him on his plane, where the conversation continued. He got off in LA and let me have the G4 for the rest of the ride to my destination, and then came up the next day to hear that talk as well, on a different topic. I was due to go to LA for a third presentation the following day, so he offered to take me back with him. We talked and napped and talked more in the back of his limo. Then, after a visit at his amazing home in Brentwood, his driver took me to my next speaking event.
Norman played a big role in my life during those days, with his cheerful encouragement and belief in what I was starting to do as a public philosopher. He helped give me the confidence to leave university life and launch out on an adventure that was in its inception, and even now, nearly unprecedented for an academically trained philosopher in our time. Whenever I was with him, his assistants were taking calls constantly, and Fed Ex was delivering packages every few minutes, it seemed. But I never felt like I had only a fleeting sliver of his attention. His gift to me included full presence, full focus, and uninterrupted conversation of the liveliest and most probing sort. I try to remember that whenever a young person just starting his or her own adventure wants to talk—for advice, wisdom, or just encouragement.
We've kept in touch over the years, in fits and starts. He's called me several times about possibly getting involved in something he was doing. He's made me think, and made me laugh. I just love hearing his voice. Norman turns 94 on July 27. And he's still creating. He has a new show upcoming on Netflix, as well as a documentary of his life about to come out. Happy Birthday, old friend. Continue to learn and dance and create!