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Learning from Hannah
Secrets for a Life Worth Living
by William H. Thomas, M.D.

New York City

Snow was falling softly on the street outside our apartment building when we completed our manuscript. It was a Monday morning after a sleepless Sunday night. We had worked around the clock in a frenzied final round of manuscript proofreading. The deadline had pushed us close to our breaking points. The clock read 6:29 a.m. when we finished The Book. That’s what we called it—The Book. Officially, its title was Medical and Social Aspects of Aging, but to us it was The Book. We had worked on it side by side, six days a week, for two years. In our minds, it was nothing less than a 1,215-page tyrant, and it had ruled our lives.
The gray morning light of the city filtered in through the kitchen window to reveal the completed manuscript in its cardboard box on the kitchen table. It contained more than 500 graphs and over 700 tables. Footnotes? Don’t even ask. We never did manage to count them all. The Book was our distillation of tens of thousands of research articles, monographs, and literature reviews. It contained, as of February 3, 1989, the sum of human knowledge about aging. I don’t think we’ll ever forget that date. Our publisher had drilled it into our heads as the “final and forever, do or die, drop-dead deadline.” Now it was here, and we were ready to deliver what we had promised.
I slammed the lid down over the box and wrapped it with packing tape. When the last piece of tape was in place, we toasted our victory with the dregs from a carton of warm orange juice. The tyrant was caged, and we had just over three hours to spare. All I had to do was carry the boxed manuscript to our publisher’s offices on West 57th Street.
The people in the apartment upstairs went through their morning ritual of floor-thumping and door-banging. Cars hissed like snakes as they slithered through the dirty slush. We just sat at our table. Neither of us moved or spoke for what seemed like a long time.
“It’s over,” I said.
Jude nodded her head slowly in agreement. We had often fantasized about throwing a wild party when we had The Book behind us. Now that the day was here, we didn’t have the energy to celebrate. Jude got up and walked over to the window.
“We’ve got to get away,” she said. “I am sick to death of cities, books, and libraries. I want to find a place where there are no deadlines.”
I nodded in agreement. “That would be great. We should do that sometime.” The chief of geriatrics at the center had been pleased with our work and had already lined up our next project. I should have been honored. Instead, I was dreading it.
“I mean it, Bill. We’ve got to get out of New York, at least for a while.”
“Where do you want to go?”
Jude shrugged her shoulders. It hurt me to see her so listless, so beaten down. She was right, of course. If we didn’t do something, we’d be buried again in no time. Then it hit me. If we needed to get away, far away, we could go sailing.
“What do you say to renting a boat and spending a month in the Caribbean? It’ll be just like the old days, only better.”
She whirled around, her back now to the Sailboatwindow, her face lit up. “That’s it! It’s just what we need.” In that instant, her drive, her fire, and her passion came surging back.
“Let me deliver the manuscript,” I told her, “and you start making some calls.”
Jude’s eyes were charged with excitement as she moved away from the window. “We could fly to San Juan and rent a sloop. Then we could sail south into the Lesser Antilles.”
My own enthusiasm grew as I listened to her plans for our getaway. She was on the telephone making arrangements even before I was dressed and ready to make my delivery.
One week later, we were equipped, packed, and ready to go. I carried our few bags down to the sidewalk, and after a final inspection of the apartment, we closed the door, triple locked it, and walked away. We didn’t know it, but that was the last time we would ever see the place we had called home for the last two years. Our carefully led, highly productive lives were about to collide with forces and events far beyond our understanding or control. Thankfully, we knew nothing of the storm that lay in our path.

All excerpts from Learning from Hannah,
Copyright 1999 by William H. Thomas, M.D.
Illustrator: Lenice U. Strohmeier

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