August 2020

August 2019 was the last month we lived together. It was the seventh month of living under the dark cloud of our marriage dissolving.  Month by month, day by day, without much drama, the life we once had together, thin as it turned out to be, edged closed to exit. Communication ceased. The drawn-out timing was my request to which she reluctantly agreed. It was hard, maybe terrible, for both us.  As I expressed myself here as elsewhere, she retreated deeper inside the protective shell that shielded her from explanation, responsibility.  She feared quotations of the truth and went to extreme, even legal, lengths to suppress any revelation.  The truth can bear only so much sunlight.

August 2019 was a difficult month. Recovering from surgery with a bandaged and unworkable left hand, I had to sort, sell, and pack all of my earthly belongings to be ready to move out of her house on September 1st.  Tension in our house while rarely breaking the surface was in the air we breathed. I have said before thank god we had our dog Bebe-a loving distraction from the lack of love between us. It was a time of unrelenting sadness. Was what could have been ever possible?

August 2020.  I have been gone nearly a year. We have had no communication but for a few lawyer letters summing up the divorce and an impersonal forwarding of my mail. She refuses to communicate. The Covid-19 shutdown and restrictions have undoubtedly not given her the return-to-life-before-Niland she envisioned, though I’m sure she’s happier on her own. A shared life is not in her DNA, as her many marriages and broken off relationships prove. Already always leaving is a thwart to commitment.

I’m beginning my sixth month in Boston. I moved across the country to be away from her, and to be closer to roots and geography I love. The pandemic has slowed my plans, too. I rely on my friends in San Francisco, unable to begin making new friends here. I am lucky and grateful to have family, my son Sam and his wife Saga and twin boys, nearby. Since moving in January one of my three closest friends in San Francisco has died. My best friend Josh remains in close contact and will remain so. We miss one another and compensate with video calls and our book club of two. My other friend Michael while a special presence in my life is occupied with his role as director of City Center at the San Francisco Zen Center—especially consuming in these viral times.

Do I resent her for ending our marriage?  I resent her more for not being the person I thought she was. I’m better off now, on my own, in nearly every way. A loveless, sexless, judgmental marriage isn’t what I ever wanted. The 2019 upending of my life that she caused is past–the past put in the past drawer of life. The logistics all fell into place, with help of generous friends and family who provided shelter, support, and love. I was never alone.

What’s so right now is the continuing pandemic with all its attendant uncertainties; the daily horror of Trump and his sycophantic Republicans; BlackLivesMatter and social unrest. And just last week a fatal shark attack on a swimmer off Bailey Island in Maine!

Amidst this atmospheric gloom, I swim in Boston Harbor nearly every day, teach my students, paint watercolors, read, listen to Ray’s huge collection of classical CDs, attend Zoom meetings, connect with friends virtually. My life is full.

I miss my dog. I miss companionship and the intimacy that love could inspire. I don’t miss her.

What Friendship Looks Like



It’s the end of the year, the end of the decade, and the end of my time in San Francisco.

The past year hasn’t been the best, with two unanticipated and unwanted life situations hurling major personal dislocation and stricken fatherly worry: my wife’s decision to end our marriage and my youngest son’s cancer diagnosis.

The past decade, and my time in California being nearly the same—I moved to San Francisco in mid-2008– has been as Life Experience goes a significant chapter.

Charles Dickens said better than I can:

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

My eyes fill up with tears, I don’t know why. These were after all, in part, the best of times.

I discovered love at first sight, shot straight in the heart by Cupid’s arrow. Never before or since—maybe only once in a lifetime. Candles don’t burn brightly forever.

I made lifelong friends. I found my best friend. He will remain so.

I married a woman I loved. That she ended our marriage doesn’t take away the loveliness of the beginning.

The world of open water swimming opened up to me.

I joined the South End Rowing Club and found a new community. They, too, will remain if distantly.

My Cow Hollow men’s group has been a foundation and source of much joy. I will return.

I loved a sweet little dog. He’s gone from me, but held dear.

I created a new career in teaching, taking me to a future that hadn’t existed before.


It seems remarkable that all of this happened in one decade long lifespan. Many people never experience all of this in their entire lives.

One time, to know that it’s real.
One time, to know how it feels.
That’s all.

It was an epoch of belief, it was an epoch of incredulity. I believed in love. It was real. I knew how it felt. Two different romantic loves. One might have lasted, one should have lasted. Neither did.

What if it hurts, what then?
What do we do, what do you say?
Don’t throw your lifeline away

Do I still believe in love?


Samuel Johnson in his Dictionary of the English Language, defines love five ways:

  1. To regard with passionate affection, as that of one sex to the other.
  2. To regard with the affection of a friend.
  3. To regard with parental tenderness.
  4. To be pleased with.
  5. To regard with reverent unwillingness to offend.

I love my sons with deep parental tenderness. I have a few friends I hold close in loving affection. I love to read, to swim, to paint, to impart to my students what I’ve learned in my life. There are many I am unwilling to offend.

Do I dare risk passionate affection again? Loving commitment?

Is heartbreak too steep a price to pay? Does love always have to end, for me?

Don’t throw your lifeline away

One time, just once in my life.
Yeah one time, to know it can’t happen twice.
One shot on a clear blue sky.
One look, I see the reasons why you cared.

One chance to get back to the point where everything starts.
One chance to keep it together,
Things fall apart.

There’s a future that doesn’t yet exist for me. I can’t pull the past into that future.

So, yes, the risk is OK.

Let what life brings come.

What if we do, what now?
What do you say, how do I know?
Don’t let your lifeline go.

Don’t let your lifeline go.


What Matters Most is Friendship After All

I leave San Francisco in twenty days, Boston bound. In twenty days my California adventure will come to an end. It wasn’t a chapter in my life that I intended to be temporary. I moved from New York in mid 2008 to create a new life, away from the turmoil and drama of an ugly divorce and unmanageable behavior. A new job in San Francisco facilitated the move.

I have created a new life here in this city on the Bay, the bay being a huge part of the life I’ve created. I have loved my life here, and yet, again, I am moving away to change the music following another painful, if less ugly, divorce. Failed marriages seem to be my catalysts for change: the first one an urgent necessary, the second not: calmer and sadder. It needn’t have been.

What I have come to realize, and appreciate, is that the friendships I have here are more important and more lasting than the two romantic relationships that occurred during these eleven and a half years. My friends will remain my friends forever; the two women are gone from my life. Forever.

Last night my closest friends Josh and his wife Peggy hosted a farewell dinner. My two friends whom I’ve known the longest in San Francisco, Michael and Ray were there. New friends Ross and his husband Greg, and Alan and Zena were there, too. Old friends meeting new friends, all present at the dining table for me.

Adapting the lyrics from Barbra Streisand’s beautiful song by Marilyn and Alan Bergman  called “What Matters Most,” Ross wrote and sang his version to me:

It’s not how many swims shared in the bay

What matters are the friends who swam together

It’s not how far we traveled on our way

But what we found to say

It’s not the springs we’ve seen

But all the shades of green.


It’s not how far apart our homes may be

What matters is how sweet the years together

It’s not how many summer times we had to give to fall

The laughter and the smiles we gratefully recall

What matters most is friendship after all.


I’m not ashamed to say it made me cry.

What matters most is friendship after all.

She can’t take that away from me. She can upend my life, but she can’t take away friendship. My friendships.

Josh, Michael, Ray, these three men in my life—each so different from one another and each occupying such large swathes of geography in my heart. I love these men in a way that romantic love can’t equate. My love for them is like the foundation of a building, on top of which romance builds a house. The house blew down in a storm—it was made of straw– but the foundation remains rock solid and secure.

The irony, if irony is what it is, is that my friendship, my best friendship friendship, with Josh came about because she was friends with him; he swam with her for years before meeting me. She introduced us and asked Josh to take me on my first South End bay swim. We swam out of the Cove and behind the Balclutha. Of the many things for which I’m grateful that she gave me—there are many—my friendship with Josh touches most deeply.

Version 4

It’s rare when later in life you meet a new friend, another man, who comes to occupy so important a place in your life, as though friends since birth. Josh was the first person I called after she told me she no longer loved me and wanted to end our marriage, that clear cold day in February when I biked to the center of the Golden Gate Bridge and stared down at the dark water for an hour, realizing that my life could be renewed in ways I couldn’t yet imagine. He and Peggy came immediately, and have been there for and with me every single day.

She can’t take that away, what she gave to me she can’t take away from me. Only herself.

Part of the sadness that pervades the dissolution of our marriage and the resulting disassociation is that I can’t share my gratitude for what she gave me. She closed that door. She won’t speak to me, pretends not to see me when I’m a few feet away.

She broke my heart, yet provided the tools for its mending. My friends, and the life I created being with her.

Also at dinner last night Peggy, too, composed and sang a song, to the melody of Silver Bells. Many stanzas, with these sweet refrains:


It’s almost time for departing

Off you go, to the snow

Soon it will be sub-zero!



It’s almost time that you’re heading

To the east, take your fleece

You’ll be a Bostonian!



Soon you’ll betaking your leaving

The Club will care, you’re not there

You will be missed everywhere!



It’s almost time for departing

Soon you’ll go, to our woe

Maybe you’ll find a new beau!



Do stay in touch with your old friends

We implore, so therefore

You must comeback evermore!


We wish you sweet adventures

Paint more art, mend your heart

Swim in Boston Harbor!


Eyes again filled with tears, and smiles.

 Michael wrote, “I have always liked the Michael I saw through your eyes.”  Michael was my very first friend I made in San Francisco, beginning before I even moved here. I learned the city through his generosity of time and friendship. His six years at Tassajara and subsequent life commitment to the San Francisco Zen Center have been a beacon of integrity, hope, and a model for life, one I could never achieve but so admire. The Michael I saw, and see today, is a man for all seasons, all ages–wise, funny, generous, kind, intelligent, with a voice I could listen to forever. I hope I do.

And Ray, dear Ray, for whom 2019 has been a year of health emergencies and hardship, what can I say. I spent my first California Thanksgiving with Ray, scooped up when he hardly knew me to not be alone on this first holiday in a new city. Michael and Ray have seen me through both romantic break-ups, have been there even when the “there” was histrionic and overwrought. They never judged. Ray knows me I suspect better than I know myself. And smiles.

They will be there long after. She can’t take them away from me.

My friends live all over the world: Janine in Australia, Sean in Germany, Alan in France, John in Chicago, Richard in New York.

Now three in San Francisco.

They will all be with me long after this. They come with me to Boston, to what life will bring, to what new future that doesn’t yet exist.

May I honor them and keep their love and respect.

What matters most is friendship after all.


It’s not how long we held each other’s hand
What matters is how well we loved each other
It’s not how far we traveled on our way
Of what we found to say
It’s not the spring you see, but all the shades of green
It’s not how long I held you in my arms
What matters is how sweet the years together
It’s not how many summer times we had to give to fall
The early morning smiles we tearfully recall
What matters most is that we loved at all.
It’s not how many summer times we had to give to fall
The early morning smiles we tearfully recall
What matters most is that we loved at all.
What matters most is that we loved at all.