Sid Finkelstein would be celebrating his Synanon Birthday #55. February 7 was the most important day of his year–how he honored, earnestly, his second chance at life. This week I am invited to an AA birthday speech via Zoom for a friend here in town for her 14th year sober. How it matters!
On February 7, 1966, Sid was twenty-two. His mother and his probation officer drove him to the Synanon house in Connecticut, and I wish I could at this moment remember the name of the friend from his old neighborhood who conducted the interview and maybe it will come back right after I sign off, but Sid told me that he was just glad he could escape jail (his other option) and spend his three years probation on a California beach. But then something else had happened. And in that moment as he sat considering his answer to my questions, he said, simply, “I was given a vision. I got a vision of who I could be. What I could be.”
In the months just before Sid’s surgeries and the decline that followed, I’d been cooking up a soup or something in the kitchen, and Sid was sitting quietly in his favorite chair, that chair some of his longtime friends know well; and I stopped to look at him, to take in who that person was right there, then. I called from the kitchen, “What happened? What was it that worked? What took hold for you?” He knew what I meant.
When Sid died, now almost three years ago, I realized that an in-person gathering to celebrate his life as a Synanon family would be challenging to arrange and not within reach of everyone who might want to attend. I promised little celebrations, over time. And this is one of them now. For all his largeness, the Sid I knew best liked little things: lighting a fire, keeping it going, poking the logs, enjoying the flame.
Tonight, I’ll be lighting a fire in the fireplace; there’s a big, white candle waiting for its first flame on the mantle; yellow tulips are opening in an old, white ironstone pitcher. I’ll be flipping the TV remote to the Superbowl taking place just across the bay. No big fan of football, neither Sid nor me, but this is a local event, and the evening calls for noise and cheering.
In Sid’s honor and our own in this critical time, let’s keep the faith and hold a vision for ourselves–who we are and who we can be.