The Living Legacy of Art Buchwald
The death of Art Buchwald this morning will touch everyone who knew him in different ways. My brush with the fabled columnist was a brief and long-distance one. In college, when I first started my own love affair with journalism and became a columnist, I wrote to him asking for advice. Sure enough, a few weeks later, in my tiny mailbox at Myles Standish Hall in Boston, I found a letter from him, typed out neatly. I had sent him a few of my clips because at the time I was all about imitating his dialogue-centric style.
He could have told me to stop copying him; could have told me to find my own style and get lost; could have simply not written me back at all. Instead, Buchwald wrote me a warm and encouraging (and funny) note that boosted the wind at my back for years to come. In fact, he and I exchanged several letters and he offered me several valuable nuggets of advice that I used to my advantage for years, until other mentors blessedly came into my life and helped me steer toward the course upon which I currently sail.
So here is my suggestion on this sad day. If you want to memorialize Buchwald, if you want to honor his memory in a positive way, seek out a mentee and help her or him. Return that phone call from a young person seeking advice or a job. Help a teenager find the right path in life. Take time out of your busy schedule and your professional life and bring a thrill to someone who wants to draw from your own experiences. I have tried to do that as often as I can over the past 10 years and every time I do, even when I feel a little bothered by the whole thing, I think of Buchwald, and the joy he brought me when he took the time to respond, and I forge ahead.
No, of course I'm no Art Buchwald. I never will be. And I don't pretend to think that my responses to mentees offer the same sort of glee that his did to me. But of all the many lessons he taught me, the notion of sharing wisdom and experience with those who seek it out is perhaps one of the most poignant. The man lived a life any of us would have envied. But he didn't hoard it. He shared it. And that is just one of the reasons why he is truly one of the greatest and most important storytellers in American history.
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