New York Times: The Life Report: James Opie

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From the New York Times,  December 13, 2011:

The Life Report: James Opie

By David Brooks

The following Life Report was submitted in response to my column of Oct. 28, in which I asked readers over 70 to write autobiographical essays evaluating their own lives.

My father’s small business was founded in November of 1929, a month after the stock market crashed, and my parents were both marked by the Great Depression.  I remember well the respect my parents exercised toward older people, their church, and their bank.  Sharing a life of continual hard work and thrift, my parents also shared lighter moments with many friends, who entertained each other in their homes, at little cost.  Our family went out to restaurants two or three times a year, at most.  My father was an extraordinarily hard working and versatile businessman who rolled up his sleeves to work on every piece of equipment in his small plant.  I never met, and will surely never meet, anyone who worked harder to amass a million dollars than my father.

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Just as young people now overestimate the ranges of possibilities open to them, my father underestimated the range of possibilities open to my generation.  He saw a narrow gate at the same time the American gate was growing wider.  Born in the late 1930s and early 1940s and taught to “buckle down” and “keep your nose clean,” by the 1960s my generation had the winds of prosperity to its back.  A young person could experiment, flounder, stray off-track, and still return to an orderly life.  While many stuck to the straight-and the-narrow, that was but one option.

In 1962 I graduated from a state university in Ohio without any notion of what to do for a living.  Having married just out of college—at that time a pregnant girlfriend spelled “marriage,”—I was surprised when a rural high school near my university was willing to hire me as a teacher.  My young wife turned out to not be pregnant after all, and a walloping shock struck a year later when she left to visit her parents for a few days, never to return.  Knowing I had failed dismally as a husband but not understanding how, this blow and responses to it gradually stirred new feelings and interests.  Inner realignments began touching an inarticulate quality of search.

Continue reading at nytimes.com…

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