"How many lives have I touched?" I will be 79 y.o. tomorrow (or whenever you read this). This is a question that introspective people like me ask themselves at this time of life. I explain below how and where I encountered this quote. The real question is "How many lives have I touched?" in a positive, enduring way. Our children and grandchildren. My dear wife, Mrs. Ho Ho. All the ways in which we have 'paid forward' the happiness we have found. Scholarships, financial gifts, University projects - or the 'little' (not always so little) things - a kind word, a pat on the head, a hug, a letter, e-mail or post. Perhaps you are a teacher or other mentor, an author, poet or painter, in which case the lives you have touched run to the millions. Over our lifetimes, we have probably helped hundreds - maybe not that impressive in numbers but every one twinkles like the stars in the sky. Now the source. What follows is most of an e-mail to a friend with whom I communicate regularly. In the bottom line, it is she who holds the mirror. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . I've gotten hooked on re-runs from c. 2008 of a TV program called Numb3rs (not a mis-spelling). It's an FBI-&-bad-guys show with a twist. They work with a math professor who devises algorithms to track down the bad guys. I was watching one this morning and caught the end just as the cable pooped out. I caught a fragment and decided to see if I could find it on line. Not many references but I found this on an amazing blog. I wish I could write like that. I wish my life had been so full that I couldn't help but write like that. From OUTLET safety-valve for a confused mind Tuesday, October 16, 2012 How many lives have I touched? "The question isn't who you are. The question is : who did I turn out to be ? Who am I to you ? Are faded chalk marks and scratches on the floor the only evidence that I was here., or did some scribbled note, some fragment of a proof invert your perception of the world, even confirm it, cementing what you knew in your heart to be true with the balance of left column to right? What footprints have I left behind? Do they endure, or has the ocean of discovery washed them away already? How many lives have I touched? Have I touched yours?" - Charlie Eppes, Numb3rs (T.V. Series) and Thursday, January 3, 2013 Pen Pal "Pen pal? What does that mean?", I had innocently asked my English teacher. Having studied in different schools at different cities, I find it hard to remember when and where exactly did I ask this question, but I have a clear memory of coming across this term in a classroom - or a memory hardened by my belief of it being true. In any case, the answer came as quite a surprise to me. Never before had I thought of a friend whom you had not met; a friend whose face you hadn't seen; a friend whom you hadn't heard; but just a friend with whom you had shared your life and got only experience in return. At first the idea amused me. It wasn't only a 'pal' who hadn't seen you but also a pal who knew as much about your life as you told him (using 'him' as the gender neutral pronoun); who judged on the small portion of life that you showed him; who couldn't shout at you; who couldn't see you create a world that you wanted him to see. A pen pal offered a person to lead another life, probably the one he would like to have led, and still have a friend in that fantasy world. Despite the appeal of the idea, I never felt excited enough to try to have a pen pal. It was less due to lack of motivation but more because pen pals appeared a thing of the past, at least until very recently. Fast forward into the present; pen pals might still seem a thing of the past in this world of emails and Instant Messages. Take away the pen-paper based letters from the custom of pen-pals, the visits to post-office, the long wait for reply, and replace it with emails and a new culture begins to appear. A culture so similar to that Pen Pals, that it is hard to believe that it had ever left our side. I am not sure if it was me, who was unaware of its ongoing existence all this while or has this generation revived something that probably should never have been lost in the first place. So, have I been able to create the fantasy world I imagined it would help me build? No. Why? Because the correspondence didn't begin with the intent of forming long term bonds the only evidence of which were words exchanged over the Internet. Even before I knew I had found a friend in the person typing in those alphabets from another corner of the world, I had shared enough about myself to keep the friendship real and not just based on the person I would have wanted to be. However, I have had the opportunity to learn more about myself. Written (or typed) words offer the possibility of re-reading your own words - a definite advantage over spoken words. This let me, quite unconsciously, observe myself as a person I knew little of. It let me be the observer of my own life and watch myself narrate it to another. I have been amazed, impressed and even disappointed by things that I have written. Wittgenstein equated the writing of an autobiography with self-discovery. I would state that a pen pal serves the purpose just fine and probably is easier to come by. In this world where a person sitting in another part of the world is only a mouse-click away, I would urge people to find a 'pen pal' that can help you discover yourself. In the days just before Mrs Ho Ho re-entered my life, when I lived alone (and lonely) in Massachusetts, I journalled almost every night, scribbling away, trying to put in words the tumult that was going on in my life, then re-reading what I had written - holding the mirror up to my own soul - and asking myself if what I had written was 'true'. It was some of this material that I wanted to share (and did) with my old friend M...(later, my 'best man') when she came to visit me, bring the future Mrs Ho Ho with her for the sake of decorum. Perforce, Mrs Ho Ho was a part of this sharing. I was reluctant to share it with someone I had worked closely with but couldn't very well ask her to wait in the hallway. Later, Mrs Ho Ho told me that it was this material that rounded out the person she had known and drew us together, not only as partners and friends, but as lovers also. Nothing in my current existence could match the storms of my life at that time, as the waves came crashing down on me, but I still need to write, to reflect, and to share. Now, it is you who hold the mirror.