For many years, an essential part of my Monday morning ritual had been reading Dr. Stanley M. Aronson’s wise and erudite words on the op-ed page of The Providence Journal. In his well over 1,000 weekly columns, his topics ranged far and wide from medicine to biography to religion to the wonders and peculiarities of our English language.
Aronson was interested in everything! For example, this past Jan. 26, just two days before his death at the age of 92, his readers were treated to an exploration of our sense of smell, “Where are the aromas of yesterday?” – spiced with appropriate allusions to Samuel Coleridge (1772-1834) and Henry David Thoreau (1817-1862).
Readers of The Jewish Voice have had the pleasure and the privilege of reading Aronson’s columns for the past 18 years. I have taken particular delight in the way he has frequently managed to draw both directly and indirectly from his childhood experiences of growing up Jewish in Brooklyn.
Aronson does not mention Brooklyn in his Dec. 5, 2014, column, “Creativity in the Elderly.” Yet the love of learning, the passion for educational achievement so characteristic of the immigrant Jewish families who once crowded that borough, is almost palpable: “There are, in truth, few enterprises as remorselessly demanding as learning. Learning is not a form of accumulation like a savings account. Learning begins with the commitment to the task, hastened by a hunger to learn and an unyielding skepticism that demands the courage to discard cherished, old beliefs when confronted with compelling data. Learning demands a constant reinterpretation of what we think we know.”
Aronson was as much a man of deeds as a man of words. In an editorial in the Feb. 1 issue of The Providence Sunday Journal eulogizing Aronson as “[a] very dear friend of these pages,” the writer praises him as “a national leader in medicine: the founding dean of the Warren Alpert Medical School of Brown University, a teacher who understood that humility as well as excellence is important in medical practice, a champion of hospice care, an accomplished neuropathologist with 400 scientific papers to his credit and an author of 12 books.”
Speaking personally, I have known Stan for close to 40 years. Though it would be presumptuous for me to say that we were close friends, over the decades we developed a relationship of mutual support and respect – especially with regard to our devotion to the art and the craft of the written word.
In the beginning, I knew Stan primarily in his role as an eminent physician, who spoke elegantly and eloquently on such interrelated topics as cancer and aging and hospice care. For many years, we served together on the board of the Interfaith Health Care Ministries, a Providence-based Clinical Pastoral Educational (CPE) Center that Stan helped to establish.
On several occasions I invited Stan to speak to my congregants at Temple Habonim as well as to the larger interfaith community in Barrington. Though the event took place about 30 years ago, I still remember his address to an interfaith gathering at the Barrington Congregational Church on the subject of aging. Standing tall and trim, Stan revealed his mildly subversive sense of humor as he began his talk with his deep and sonorous voice: “We elderly are considered nonproductive, nonreproductive, and nonseductive...”
I saw Stan for the last time about two weeks before Thanksgiving. When I phoned him to see if he was up for a visit, he told me to come on over but to be prepared for a bunch of wires and tubes; he was on oxygen about 20 hours a day. During the course of our lively conversation, I told him how much I enjoyed his columns on language. Ever the optimist, he assured me that there were many more such columns to come.
When I spoke to Stan’s widow Gale the day after his funeral, she emphasized that Stan was “such a life force.” I would suggest that Stan continues to be a life force and that with the passage of time his presence will be more profoundly felt than his absence. It is no accident that one of his last columns to appear in The Providence Journal carries the title of a well-known poem by the Welsh poet, Dylan Thomas (1914-1953): “And Death Shall Have No Dominion.”
JAMES B. ROSENBERG is rabbi emeritus of Temple Habonim in Barrington. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.