Wednesday, May 15, 2013

the last book I ever read (Remembering Denny by Calvin Trillin, excerpt nine)

from Remembering Denny by Calvin Trillin:

For those who had gathered the evening of the memorial service in Tersh Boasberg’s living room—even those who agreed with Rocky Suddarth that Denny had been in trouble from the start—analyzing Denny’s life seemed to be partly a matter of trying to isolate the moment when, as a couple of people had put it, he began to lose his direction. Most of the people in the room had themselves been highly directed since grade school. They were not just Denny people, they were fifties people—fifties high achievers, mainly, who had grown up thinking that the life of a fifties golden boy had the smooth trajectory of an airliner rising from the ground. If things didn’t work out that way, it’s natural for them to look for the moment when the motor started sputtering.

Somebody at Tersh’s had said that the problem facing people who breeze through high school and college the way Denny did is that they get no training in losing, so the first defeat can be devastating. Denny did have some training—for instance, he had apparently been deeply disappointed that his performance as a swimmer at Yale did not match the record-breaking swimming he had done for the Sequoia Cherokees—but he also had the awful insecurity that had been present even when he seemed to be a person who could lose at nothing. George E. Vaillant’s longitudinal study of members of a Harvard class twenty years ahead of us begins with the proposition that mental health is measured in how well someone adapts to the setbacks that are bound to occur; the book is called Adaptation to Life. There are those who believe that at some point Denny was unable to adapt because, as one of them put it, “something happened and he decided his life was worthless.” The stories of failed golden boys all of us heard just after Denny died tended to have such moments—the career path mistake, the panic that cost the golden boy his confidence. For some of the people who interpret Denny’s life that way, Oxford was the moment.

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