Arts in New York City: Baruch College, Fall 2008, Professor Roslyn Bernstein
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Category — Cultural Expressions

Sam Freedman Explains “Who She Was”

             First and foremost Samuel Freedman is know to the world as a widely read New York Times columnist, author and professor at Columbia University’s School of Journalism. To our IDC class and to anyone who has read his book “Who She Was”, he is a penitent son.

            Courteous as befits a man of his intelligence he entered our class a few minutes late with an apology and a reminder to Professor Bernstein that he had sent her two messages to alert her to his lateness. Even with deadlines earlier that morning he still took the time to come speak to our class. Mr. Freedman showed us immense presence of mind.           

He confessed in our class, as he looked down at his black patent leather shoes and nondescript dark slacks, “He wasn’t a very good son”. This confession is the first part to an explanation as to why he would write a book about his mother. Mothers are very interesting I suppose because everyone has one it is a universal subject. It was not impulse that drove him as he realized at her burial that he did not know her, it was guilt.

Running his hand back against his prickly salt and pepper hair he admitted he was “complicit on the silence of that subject”. He sugar coated his confession with a lower more even tone as he shifted side to side at the edge of the table at the front of the classroom, that he was at times uncommunicative and condemning of his mother. As he smiled at our questions and raised his shaggy eyebrows at some of them it was clear that he hadn’t quite gotten over this guilt in writing this book. He was as he put it “filled with shame and remorse at not being a more attentive son and better to her when she was sick”.

            I believe his guilt motivated him to research the aspects of her life with a “fanatical” attention to detail. He “knew what she was” but not “how she got there” and in saying that he acknowledged that he unfairly cast judgment on her. According the Professor Freedman if you “write about your own specific experiences and if done right, readers bring own experiences with reading and find connections”. It is sad for a young, idealistic student such as myself to admit this but theme of a son unable to reconcile with a parent is universal. Any adult with that much influence and proximity to a young child is bound to create disputes and disagreements. He believes in the “Periodic table of human nature – everything in material world can be broken down to finite elements; no matter what happens in human existence, everything breaks down to love, hate, disappointment, human personality, as long as you’re true to those, people will find the points of connection”. These themes are not all sad but Samuel Freedman is correct in his assertion that human beings sometimes relate to each other less in aspects in happiness and more in aspects of suffering because the later is just so much more prevalent.

            His final piece of advice to a group of idealistic and high achieving students that compromise Professor Bernstein’s Art’s In New York class addressed the future. As young individuals we will all eventually become parents ourselves. He warned us to be careful of denying our children of their “hearts desire”. If it is not something that “will kill them like drugs or something be careful of denying them that”. His mother was denied a chance of a happy marriage based on her love for Charlie and that is how she changed. I still find it unsettling how he could write in such a detached manner about his mother, someone who was in his life for so long. Only in addressing her past and sharing it was he able to find some sort of redemption. In forgiving her for her he forgives himself for the lack of communication between them. The book is written and published and he can move on to the future now.

December 16, 2008   Comments Off on Sam Freedman Explains “Who She Was”