June 24, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)


The trouble is that somebody is going to discover me fifteen years after I'm dead; and great men are not discovered for fifty years.

Martin H. Fischer (1879-1962)

There is an old curse: "May all your wishes come true." Why is it a curse instead of a blessing? Let me explain. In 1974, when I was 49 years old, My book The Topic of Cancer was published. I had dreams of fame and fortune. A best selling book is worth a million bucks and I had illusions. I went on a book tour and spoke on radio and television shows. I remember being in Chicago, on its most popular talk show. However, there was only one copy of my book in Chicago, and I had it. The book got glowing reviews. However, the New York Times, that arbiter of public taste in books, didn't review it at all. Neither did the San Francisco Chronicle. I sometimes wonder if my angry chapter on cigarettes might have had something to do with it. Advertising cigarettes was a significant part of a paper's revenue. The book was out of print after its first printing. It was revised and translated into Dutch and Chinese and it died there too.

I am sitting up in bed typing on my laptop computer. The east window by my bed looks out over a wide expanse of forest. In the distance are snow capped mountains. The sun is shining in my east window. It is a lovely spring morning and I feel good. Where would I be now if my dreams of fame had come to pass? I would probably be living in a stinking city. In the morning I would dress, have breakfast and go to an office in a tall building. There I would be inundated with problems that I would have no idea how to solve. Not only would I not be able to solve them, I would not be able to begin to approach them.

I read a delightful column by Ellen Goodman on women's shoes and sent her an e-mail telling her so. I got back a canned reply saying that she gets over 1,000 letters a week and therefore could not answer my letter personally. Wow! I get a letter per month about one of my newspaper columns. I can give some thought to the answer. A dozen letters a week would overwhelm me. If any were about medicine, I would worry whether I was helping or harming the writer.

I am pleased that the people at the newspaper, grocery, building supply and the propane vendor in the small town close to my home recognize me. That is enough. I have no need for any more fame than that.

Now in my eightieth year, I look back at the past and think that my life has been far better than it would have been had my wishes come true.

WHAT? You don't believe that I prefer living in comfortable obscurity on a mountain top, rather than being rich and famous? Well, neither do I.

Next column

Return to the Personal Home Page

Return to Ira's Home Page