lElliott Bay is the part of Puget Sound that forms the harbor of the city of Seattle. It is lined with piers, restaurants and tourist attractions such as the Seattle Aquarium and The Great Wheel. Toward the northern most end of the harbor stand grain elevators and docks where the huge cruise ships bound for Alaska take on their passengers. Just south of all this activity sits the iconic Edgewater hotel, a Seattle institution where once the Beatles stayed, leading to a locally famous picture of their four heads poking out the window over the water. The motto of the Edgewater is: “Fish from your window.“ The hotel boasts a roomie bar and lovely dining room, both looking out large windows immediately onto the water.
My wife and two of her girlfriends have made a tradition of celebrating their birthdays over lunch at the bar. One day in the late spring they decided to bring along their husbands for one of their lunches. A very good time was had by all, and at the end, looking around the scene on this bright beautiful day, my amazing wife Lisa shared an idea: “I think Gil and I should come here every Friday in the summer and spend the night. We can have drinks in the bar in the middle of the day with one set of friends and then later have dinner with another group.“ And so it began. Lisa negotiated a favorable rate on one of the beautiful rooms. We rented a Hoyer lift and asked the hotel to store it for our use. My caregiver Maria came in the evening after dinner. She used the Hoyer to lift me out of the wheelchair and onto the bed. We found in the morning that she and Lisa together could slide me from the bed into the wheelchair without the Hoyer.
On our visits to the bar in the afternoon, my too-frequently repeated joke was that the catheter that has been inserted into my bladder had resulted in a need for flushing by drinking the recommended 3 liters of liquid per day. My joke was that the particular liquid was not specified and that, “Hey, tonic and gin are liquids.”
The Fridays arrived and punctuated the Summer with laughter. The staff in the hotel and the restaurant and bar became our new friends. Small traditions arose. The bar offered a Cuban sandwich at lunchtime, and of course wonderful Seattle fish options for dinner.
Boats came by on the sparkling Bay as we sat in the bar, which itself seemed like our great big boat. Every so often, one of the boats from the company formerly called Seattle Harbor Tours appeared, usually prompting a story from me about the Summer after my freshman year that I spent cleaning those boats at 5 AM every morning down on the dock. This was the summer when I bought a used BMW motorcycle and rode it from Seattle back to New York City for my sophomore year at Columbia. Because Robert Persig, who wrote the book, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, had been a professor at Montana State University, I made the pilgrimage to Bozeman and went to the MSU bookstore to buy a copy.
While looking at the shelf for the book, a copy of Siddhartha by Herman Hess fell into my hand and changed my life. Siddhartha was the son of a rich lord (brahmin). Handsome and brilliant, he was not satisfied by the wise elders and their teachings, or even by the teachings of the Buddha himself, who Siddhartha met. He resolved to experience life, becoming a rich merchant, a gambler, a lover and father.
I decided that, like the seeker Siddhartha, I would pursue everything that life had to offer. I dove headlong into Rugby and College, engaged in protests and got arrested twice by the NYPD. I played around in Manhattan after graduating Columbia and lived with 3 Rugby buddies in Hell’s Kitchen (now Clinton). In law school I was taught by Lawrence Tribe, one of the foremost scholars of constitutional law and the lawyer who argued Bush v. Gore twice before the Supreme Court. My second year moot court argument was judged by none other than the late Archibald Cox, the Watergate special prosecutor who’s firing by Richard Nixon, triggered what became known as The Saturday NightMassacre—a cascade of DOJ resignations that was one of the stones in the avalanche leading to Nixon’s resignation. Cox told me that I had argued well.
After graduation, I clerked for judges in Honolulu and Seattle. And then had the unbelievable good fortune of working with some of the most legendary lawyers in the country at the law firm of Williams and Connolly in Washington DC. I worked on the defense of William Jefferson Clinton—the second impeachment trial in American history—drafting some lines that when spoken on the Senate floor by partner Nicole Seligman were the only lines shown by the news networks for that day of the trial:
“Now is the moment when the failure of the managers proof, the wise prescriptions of the framers, and the best interests of the nation all come together to move this great body to dismiss these articles of impeachment. You have listened. You have heard. The case cannot be made. It is time to end it.”
Back at home in Old Town Alexandria, I walked down to the Potomac and around lovely rowhouses with my three beautiful children: two sharp, funny, curly red haired girls and a smart, sturdy boy. The twins in their double jogger stroller stopped foot traffic on the sidewalks of King Street. Our Scottie dog, Clyde, did his share too. At the crest of this wave I had a full life and a career that I loved. Multiple sclerosis took it all away.
A blaze of fortune’s white light, landed me with the love of my life in a wonderful home in Seattle. In the last chapter of his life, Siddhartha found peace working a ferry across a wide river. I plan to listen and learn from where I am.
What I have learned so far is that everything is connected—the motorcycle, the glistening water, my glorious wife and our friends—and that you get closer to peace the more you can love what is- breathing in, breathing out, listening to the rain on my back porch and sitting in this damn wheelchair.