Aaron Sonnenberg

We got a surprise fly-by from a 1950’s Navy propeller plane yesterday as we walked down Broad Beach in Malibu. The breaking waves underneath only added to the uniqueness and buzz of the moment. I don’t think I’ve ever seen plane fly so low. 

Broad Beach was one of my grandparents’ favorite spots in LA and I know they would have gotten a kick out of seeing the plane (They both served in the armed forces - my grandfather in the Navy, and my grandmother in the South African Women’s Auxiliary Air Force. It’s how they met while both stationed in Cairo, Egypt during WWII).

I remember many of the trips we took to Broad Beach. My grandfather and I walking down the secret paths, exploring rock formations at low tide, and adding to my ever accumulating rock and shell collection. I still have many of those rocks we collected. While they may seem outwardly unremarkable - I keep them because they help me remember.

Too much of the time, though, I layer a heavy sentimentality on top of these memories. It’s easy and instinctive for me to focus on the people and places that are now gone or far away - the feeling that there’s no way to ever recreate those moments again.

Experiencing the beach, and then the surprise of the plane flying by was a nice reminder that I can add to the old memories. It was a much needed jolt to let me know that memories are not stale, untouchable objects. While some of the people may be gone or far away, the memories are ever evolving.

This is a picture of my grandparents, my dad and I at my college graduation. 

I remember how happy my grandmother was just to be there. She had missed my high school graduation due to a medical issue and this was a moment she had been looking forward to for a long time.

I would have been happy just to have had a nice meal with my family. It was a freezing spring day, a symptom of the notoriously unpredictable Michigan weather, and sitting out in Michigan Stadium amongst thousands of other graduates didn’t seem very important to me. After all, I had graduated and my good friends and I had taken the last few weeks to make sure we spent quality time together. 

But I knew how important this was for my grandmother. I could tell how proud she was of me and how much it meant to her to be there - even if it meant sitting on a metal stadium bench in the cold for hours. 

My grandparents taught me the meaning of unconditional love. That may sound cliché, but they were always there for me - my biggest fans through good times and bad. 

When I was a small child, my grandparents helped take care of me after my mom passed away. A time period that could have been filled with loneliness was instead filled with warm memories of times spent with them. I remember building forts in their den, taking walks to the mall and going to feed the nearby horses carrots with my grandmother. I remember helping my grandfather build and tinker with things in the garage and lending him a hand as he gardened on the hill next to their condo. I could go on and on…I have endless positive memories of the adventures we shared and the love and care they showed me. 

My grandfather passed away a few years ago, and this past weekend, my grandmother passed away after 93 years of life. 

Her life was full of adventure. I wrote about both of them here - but it bears repeating that they loved to travel. 

My grandmother, in particular, was an adventurer. She joined the South African Women’s Auxiliary Air Force during World War II in the hopes of seeing Palestine and the world. She was only 22 years old.

Not only did she get to hop on planes to Jerusalem, travel to Syria, Iraq and many other countries I could never visit now, but she also met my grandfather while stationed in Cairo.

After the war they moved to New York and started a family. They raised two kids but never lost their passion for travel. They toured the world many times over. It was the tie that bound them. 

Even during a period of her life when my grandmother knew it would be too hard to make the long trip, she was always busy planning a visit to South Africa. Some may have thought she was delusional, but I saw that she still possessed a relentless spirit of adventure and a strong love of her family.

That was my grandma: Loving, a fierce proponent of the importance of family, an adventurer, and my number one fan. 

I miss the hell out of her and I miss the hell out of my grandfather. They were an irreplaceable part of my foundation.

I miss them but will carry on that same sense of family, the importance of unconditional love, and the spirit of adventure in my own life.

I love them and miss them very much.

This was the view from my kitchen window last night.

For the first few months that I lived here, I’d get home, throw down my heavy bag, and squint out into the distance. Perhaps I needed new glasses, or maybe I was just looking at something really far away, but I’d always swear that I could just make out the pale green arm and torch of the Statue of Liberty.

Last night, after a really pretty dusting of snow, the sky cleared, my eyes relaxed from my staring at a computer all day, and I could finally make out the full statue.

It seems kind of weird to think that a kid from California is here staring out at the Statue of Liberty from his kitchen window. Back in Los Angeles there were no snow covered roof tops, no chimneys pouring radiator steam into the night’s sky.

Los Angeles was stop number two in my young life. We moved there from Ann Arbor, Michigan to be closer to my grandparents. They would help take care of me while my mom was sick. Looking back, I’m beyond grateful that they were there to provide me the stability and comfort a small child deserves. We built forts out of blankets, and worked on projects out on the garage tool bench. They always had surprise desert plates made up of fresh fruit or ice cream or dried papaya (that was my favorite). Those are good memories from a time when most could have been terrible.

And yet, when it came time to go off to school, I only had one place in mind. I headed back to Ann Arbor, Michigan, and four years later, New York City. In the back of my mind I knew was retracing my parents’ steps, seeking the comfort of places they, and we, had been together.

I think I wanted to be closer to her. I wanted to be closer to the places where we were a perfect family, before she passed away in Los Angeles.

So I retraced their steps, weaving my way back across the country in search of an idea, a feeling, a memory. An imagining of the past that I wanted to find again.

And now I’m here in the city where my parents started their lives, where my grandfather grew up and where my grandmother came to be with him after they met in Cairo during the war.

The thing that I now realize (and this has taken a great deal of work), is there’s no more ground left to retrace. The hard, but only truth is that it’s my turn to let go a bit - and pardon the cliche notion here - It’s my turn to chart out a path of my own.

I could swing back around here and connect the historical significance of the Statue of Liberty to my own glimpse into the future. I could put forth the metaphor that the clarity with which I saw the statue last night is symbolic for a clearer, more healthy view of what lies ahead of me.

Instead, I think I’ll say that it was really nice to see the statue clearly. The snow made it all the more beautiful, and it’s nice to finally be living here.

Squibnocket, Martha’s Vineyard.

I was rooting for snow. The more, the better.

The sight of a snow covered beach shocks my system every time. I love it.

I am used to roadside palm trees, cars parked in massive asphalt lots, and sand that burns your feet.

More specifically, I am used to the beaches in Santa Monica and Venice, California.

Those are the sights of years of summer camp, sunburn, and learning to keep my eyes on the sand right in front of me so that my foot didn’t land on a piece of glass.

Those are the beaches where trash and dirty napkins from food shacks catch the wind and form swarming ketchup and mustard tornadoes under the lifeguard stands.

Those are the waters of sewage alerts and pink eye. They are beautiful to look at from the cliffs above, but the closer you go, the more the illusion fades.

I suppose this is why I’m drawn to snow covered beaches. They are pure and untouched, waves crashing on a uniform white surface.

Then the snowfall breaks and like minded explorers begin to leave their tracks of Nike and Adidas, and the sun comes out and transforms that uniform white to a slushy mess of wet sand and hidden water puddles.

That’s when I root for more snow.

It’s an alternate world to me and I love it.

I don’t want to squeeze the life out of the memories, because I want them to still be precious and mean something,” Mrs. Finken said. “I also don’t want the memories to drag us down. Because memories can do that sometimes.

A Soldier’s Requiem, Never Fading Away, by James Dao, The New York Times.

A wonderful quote from what seems like a wonderful mother to three girls who lost their father in the Iraq War.

I always hesitate to post thoughts or writings online that seem too personal or too sad. I never want to cheapen a moment, a memory or a feeling. I never want to feel like I’ve used something very personal for a public purpose.

In this instance though, I felt compelled to post. As someone who lost a parent at a very young age, I felt an instant kinship with the family in this article. I struggled, and continue to struggle with some of the very same issues surrounding loss, mourning, and memory.

Finding the balance between celebrating a memory and allowing it to hold you hostage is incredibly tough. I’m amazed and inspired by the wisdom the mother displays in this article.

For anyone else who has lost someone, I’d suggest taking some time to read this piece. It may be hard, but I think I learned from it. I hope you might find it somewhat helpful too.

Radiohead and their immense light show last night in Newark.

I wasn’t planning on going to this show. Jane and I have tickets to see them in Camden a week and a half from now. However, I saw tickets were freeing up online and had to go for it.

You see, I’m a Radiohead-head. Think of it as an offshoot of Phisheads or Deadheads. I’m not ashamed of it. Over the years I’ve seen them somewhere around ten times in various states and theaters, and even once in London.

This show was a bit different. Not that it wasn’t a great performance. I may be (am) biased, but Radiohead shows are always head and shoulders above anything else I’ve seen (the only exception being some Elliott Smith shows when he was in prime form). OK, enough bragging. Sorry.

This show was different because unfortunately, my dad couldn’t join me. You see, my dad has not just been a Radiohead-head with me (we’ve taken trips to Seattle, London, Santa Barbra and a few others to see them…and visit family), he’s helped shape my taste in music, and I’ve help shape his.

As a small kid, I’d set up my Fisher Price tape recorder and sing along to his James Taylor records. Later, he would introduce me to Neil Young, Leonard Cohen, Phil Ochs, The Beatles, and so many more seminal artists. This type of behavior is pretty typical in a parent-child relationship. Not necessarily involving music- but with the child taking to his parents’ interests.

The difference here though is that as I got a bit older and started developing my own taste in music, my dad didn’t dismiss it. He came along for the ride. As I discovered Elliott Smith, Radiohead, Jeff Buckley, Wilco, Sufjan Stevens, Spoon and so many more amazing artists, he listened and took to many of the bands as well.

Gradually, a pretty amazing music exchange formed. If I hear a new artist I love, I send him a song or album. If he finds someone new or rediscovers someone he used to love, he shares it with me. We talk influences, go to shows together when we can, and generally make music a much fuller and more meaningful experience for both us.

Music is the team we bond over. It cuts through the years, through the good times, and through challenging times. No matter the situation, It brings us back to being father and son. It brings us back to being friends.

So last night, as I listened to Thom Yorke belt out the lyrics to “Paranoid Android,” I couldn’t help but think back to all the shows we’ve been to together. I thought of that moment after our first time seeing Radiohead. Our minds completely blown, so much so that we got totally lost trying to find the London hotel where the rest of the family was staying, I remember him saying (and I paraphrase a bit):

"Wow, those guys are just totally in their artistic prime. They were in complete sync. It was like seeing Bob Dylan back in his prime."

I’ll never forget that moment. It not only connected me with a musical culture and past that I’m fascinated with, but it also helped me understand and know a younger version of my dad. It was one of the first moments I realized that we weren’t that different at all.

Of course, there will be more shows and artists to come for the two of us. There will be more connections made and history learned. But I can’t help but say that last night, I missed him.

Yelling Past One Another

I’ve been thinking a great deal lately about how people formulate their opinions; from the most mundane one-off thoughts, to the political positions they passionately defend, to the judgments that can make or break relationships. Yes, this ramble can be applied to the debate over WikiLeaks, but it’s certainly not the only, nor primary matter that got me thinking along these lines.

It may seem a bit cliché, but I keep coming back to the two seemingly oppositional manners of thinking: One, that actions fall into either one camp or the other – right or wrong, good or bad – that actions or ideas are black and white in nature. Two, that within each action or idea there exist many shades of gray.

Common wisdom, as I understand it, is that we’re taught the concepts of good and bad early as children in order to instill within us a sense of values and morality. Some people learn this from parents, from school, from religion, from self-discovery, and some never learn it at all.

As we grow older, we’re confronted with increasingly complex situations that require additional ways of thinking. More nuanced emotions and motivations come into play, and in order to exist in such a world, most develop a sense that there are shades of gray to every issue.

Some might argue that the very idea of believing in “shades of gray” represents a compromised manner of thinking. That it signifies a loss of ideals, a fall from grace, and even requires the sacrifice of important principles of decency. Some may believe that the ever increasing shades of gray in this world have lead us down a road of weakened morality that causes increased conflict and destruction.

I would like to propose something that may seem both blatantly obvious and/or hopelessly abstract: That there are shades of gray between the very concepts of “black and white” and “shades of grey” (Yes…I know, I know…that does sound a bit ridiculous, but hear me out).

I think that you can believe in issues, be principled, have morals, but still believe in complexity of process and the nuance of the issues at hand. It’s call practicality, and it shouldn’t be considered a dirty word.

One of the most important concepts I learned in my years of schooling (or possibly more so just from arguing with my family growing up) is that when you’re arguing a point, your position is weakened immensely if you do not address opposing viewpoints. For example, I can’t solidly argue that the best move for our economy is more government spending without addressing what I believe to be the merits and failures of a deficit reduction policy path.

No matter what you believe in – “black and white,” “shades of gray,” or some other philosophy - it’s precisely when you feel the most certain that your reasoning is correct that you should step back and consider the merits of the opposing viewpoints.

I’m not suggesting that any manner of thinking or opinion is flat out wrong. I just believe that the more passionately you believe in a method of thinking or an opinion, the more susceptible you are to overlooking the very counterpoints you really should be considering. It’s a bias that everyone should make an effort to avoid.

Taking the time to explore counterpoints will always lead to a more in depth understanding of the issue at hand. It produces a stronger ability to coexist, live, work, and even love those with whom you disagree. It is, in my opinion, the most effective way to bring about that more idealistic world that so many people believe has slipped away due to a compromise of ideals.

This may all seem very basic and obvious, so why not just take this back to an old childhood saying that applies at any age  (and I might have just been better served thinking of this anecdote before writing): Always put yourself in the other person’s shoes. At the very least, you will have a baseline with which to pursue a more productive and civil dialogue.

(Source: hithereimaaron.com)

This is 34 degrees, 25 mph wind gusts, and stinging grains of sand blowing in my face.

This is squinting not only to protect my eyes, but to take advantage of what little light is left.

This is “holy shit I can’t feel my right index finger” fumbling for the shutter release button.

It sounds crazy but there’s a current in this cold night’s experience that I love. The rush I get from pushing myself through certain types of physical and mental discomfort provides me with an extreme sense of gratification and calm.

This is why I used to love running. The simplicity of changing shoes, throwing on shorts and taking off was liberating. I found that a good run could help me cope with almost anything.

Unfortunatly I can’t run anymore due to a bad back. I miss it like hell, and I still struggle to find a substitute for the ability it provided me to push myself to the limit on command.

So while it seems crazy, I love moments like this.

For me, they’re therapeutic.

Hallucinations in Hospital Pose Risk to the Elderly

"Disproportionately affecting older people, a rapidly growing share of patients, hospital delirium affects about one-third of patients over 70, and a greater percentage of intensive-care or postsurgical patients, the American Geriatrics Society estimates.

A delirious patient happens almost every day,” said Dr. Manuel N. Pacheco, director of consultation and emergency services at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Mass. He treated Mr. Kaplan, whom he described as “a very learned, acclaimed person,” for whom “this is not the kind of behavior that’s normal.” “People don’t talk about it, because it’s embarrassing,” Dr. Pacheco said. “They’re having sheer terror, like their worst nightmare.”

The cause of delirium is unclear, but there are many apparent triggers: infections, surgery, pneumonia, and procedures like catheter insertions, all of which can spur anxiety in frail, vulnerable patients. Some medications, difficult for older people to metabolize, seem associated with delirium.

Doctors once dismissed it as a “reversible transient phenomenon,” thinking “it’s O.K. for someone, if they’re elderly, to become confused in the hospital,” said Dr. Sharon Inouye, a Harvard Medical School professor. But new research shows significant negative effects.”


Unfortunately, I’ve seen this happen to a grandparent. It’s terrifying to watch and there’s no doubt in my mind it significantly contributed to his ultimate deterioration. Blood tests in the middle of the night, endless scans at all hours, and still the doctors just wrote it off as an elderly patient becoming confused in the hospital.

I’m glad to see that some doctors are waking up to the significance of mental health in the treatment of a patient. Too often, they fail to step back and consider the psychological impact of their words, tests, and interactions.

I’m not saying that all doctors do this, or that the tests and treatments are unnecessary. I’ve had some wonderful doctors who really take the time to consider the mental aspect of injury or illness - it’s personally helped me overcome a number of health related issues.

However, I really would like to see increased education to improve the communication techniques of doctors and their consideration of the psychological impact words or procedures will have on the patient.

In my opinion, being able to diagnose and treat physical problems is only 50% of being a good doctor. The ability to communicate, listen and understand is just as important.