Summing Up a Life

In November 2014 I was invited to speak at the David Horowitz Freedom Center’s conference in Florida. I had not seen David for a few years, and he walked a bit gingerly with a cane. David’s latest book, the bittersweet and unusually titled:  “You’re Going to be Dead One Day: A Love Story” provides plenty of detail on the very trying year that both David and his wife April had gone through prior to the conference.  Midway through his 8th decade, after a period of more than a dozen years dealing with various maladies including cancer, David had been the victim of surgical malpractice while having what he expected to be routine hip replacement surgery.

The botched procedure had left him in severe pain, with a paralyzed left foot, and unable to walk.  Reading about David’s medical history reminded me of my recent visit to a physician, where I noticed on the summary sheet for my visit, that the  codes associated with all of my own specific diagnosed conditions, had hit double figures for the first time.  I am ten years behind David Horowitz, but catching up fast. You’re Going to be Dead One Day is a story of one man who has not simply given up and allowed himself to fall into a depressed state because he has drawn the wrong end of the health stick a little earlier than some others, including through the incompetent actions of so-called professionals.

April had had an even more frightening near death experience as a result of a very serious auto accident in which a moment of dizziness while driving alone resulted in  her truck smashing through a fence, and then going airborne, dropping 30 feet down a hill.  Not many people or vehicles survive such an accident, but in this case, fortunately, only the truck was totaled.

Horowitz’s latest book, the fourth in a series of personal reflections on aging, the great happiness of his marital life, and the things and people that now make his life meaningful, has the feel of a summing up. The reader senses that Horowitz well understands that the ratio of years remaining to years already lived is very small, and that there are things he wants to say to the people who matter most to him.  This is especially true given the fragility of our existence, certainly reinforced in his case by the struggles and calamities of his latest year.

For a writer known for his willingness to battle and match wits in struggles first for the left, and then for the right over more than half a century, Horowitz’s latest book, like two earlier ones I reviewed for American Thinker, is only tangentially political. A Cracking of the Heart provided a loving portrait of David’s daughter Sarah, who had died suddenly in her early 40s, after a lifetime of battling physical disabilities and infirmities tied to Turner Syndrome.  Sarah’s toughness and independence in spite of her frailty and her intense desire to live a full and serious life seem also to be characteristics of David’s other three children and stepson as well, whose lives, and careers are outlined in briefer fashion in the latest book. 

A Point in Time explored many of the same themes and questions that Horowitz wrestles with again in this latest book, in particular what matters in life, why should we try to be good people, and what does it mean to be a good person?

Horowitz is still a religious non-believer, and so faith will not be carrying him calmly and assuredly to a better place after death.  But Horowitz admits his non-belief does not mean that others who do have such faith, such as his wife, are wrong to feel as they do. It is simply something that he thinks is unknowable while alive.  Many non-believers today, particularly those on the left, mock those who believe. Horowitz is not among them.  So too, many who are believers are convinced that a main reason to behave well on earth is because we are being judged for the afterlife. 

Horowitz makes a good case for behaving well as its own reward -- how being kind to others -- family, friends, and other living things (in Horowitz’s case dogs and horses, either living with the family or rescued and moved to better people and places) -- brings happiness and a feeling of having done something good and important. 

There are stories in this book of horses abused and rescued through an organization April created, and others abused and too far gone to save.  There are also tales of dogs adopted and given a loving home for a few short years after a long difficult life.   The joy of animal companionship has been a later-in-life awakening for Horowitz, attributable to his wife’s passion for animals and by having them around.   

Horowitz writes of simple pleasures, being with his wife, walking more each day, enjoying the beauty of the vistas and the outdoors, dogs racing by his side.  He seems at peace with his existence and with knowing it will end.  Horowitz and April pick out burial spots and he likes where they will be at rest.  One very important insight Horowitz heard and repeats is that “The tragedy is not that we die. The tragedy is that we take so long to live.” 

The simple pleasures of daily existence, and the understanding of his current place in life, seem to have removed some of  the hard edges that  defined his years of political wars. Horowitz is still speaking and writing, adding to his millions of printed words and collection of books and columns, but it is not all that carries him through the days.  When we talked in Florida, Horowitz was very pleased that his organization had grown and launched new initiatives, and that it will outlast him  with much younger, very motivated, and very talented people to carry on the fights that have mattered to him for so long.  We don’t win wars on our own but by getting others to join up. Leaders can inspire the troops, and give them a roadmap and a reason to fight.  David Horowitz has fought the good fight, and the fight will continue. No one has been drafted or assigned into the ranks of the Freedom Center. It is a volunteer army, and growing in size and impact.

Horowitz, as in several prior books, is tough on himself, and his failures -- in his first marriage and in later relationships, in what he did or do did not do right in raising his children, in ways he behaved with friends, in his foolishness and naiveté in trying to change the world in the company of very bad actors, far less nobly inclined than he believed he was at the time.   There is a certain resignation about time passed and mistakes made, but also about how our children grow up to be adults, with their own lives and careers, and families  and independent  of us, even when they turn out fine. 

Horowitz is proud of their achievements and is happy for the contact and relationships that exist with his own children, and ex-wife, and with April’s extended family, but with the time left, Horowitz and his wife seem most comfortable trying to live and be happy with each other, on their land, with their horses and dogs, and with the work they do.  It all sounds pretty good to me.