Friday, June 16, 2017

Sometimes Brilliant – a book recommendation

Dr. Larry Brilliant’s memoir.  Harper Collins.  2016.  $28.

I served 35 years in public education and felt like, for the most part, I contributed something to some greater good.  Yet, when I get hooked into some story on PBS Newshour, I see the works of others who probably contribute more and a twinge of regret tickles the backside of my brain.  Perhaps, I think to myself, if I’d better understood the movements of the 60s – the decade in which I came of age; perhaps if I’d studied science; or embraced some sort of concept of the nature of existence; or been more politically aware. 

A month or two back that twinge hit when the Newshour interviewed Mill Valley resident Dr. Larry Brilliant on the occasion of the publication of his memoir.  I was, at first, interested because “Mr. Brilliant” was an alter-ego character I wrote about in a series of true to life short stories regarding a school principal who didn’t ever quite know what he was doing – but things worked out anyway. 

Larry Brilliant’s life adventure seemed to begin in a similar fashion.  Reared in Cleveland, he moves west, earns a medical license, joins up with a cavalcade of interesting characters (including Wavy Gravy who lives just up the road from me), travels the hippie trail from London over the Khyber Pass to commune in India.  Confronted there with the reality of poverty and disease, he plies both his training and his spiritual awareness becoming “Doctor America” to the spiritual teacher Neem Karoli Baba who tells Brilliant he is to rid the world of smallpox, the ancient disease that has claimed billions of people.

And – you know what? – he does.

Now, forty years later, a confidant of presidents and counsel to titans of our electronic age, he writes of the people, great and small, that accompanied him on his remarkable journey.  He writes of God and of good, of frustration with status quo and of a type of universal love I don’t yet fully comprehend.  Good thing he does, though.

A real-life (and very readable) respite from the daily news, I came away enlightened to this:  As long as there is poverty, as long as there is suffering, as long as there is pain, there is good work to be done.

And this realization: When we teach, we may not be curing some ages-old disease, but we are indeed engaged in good work.

See your local independent bookseller.

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