Hel­lo Dark­ness, My Old Friend

San­ford D. Green­berg, Art Gar­funkel (Intro­duc­tion), Ruth Bad­er Gins­burg (For­ward), Mar­garet Atwood (Final Word)posts

  • Review
By – July 25, 2020

Most read­ers of this inspi­ra­tional biog­ra­phy will not have heard of its author. Yet, in the over­lap­ping worlds of pol­i­tics and gov­ern­ment, as well as entre­pre­neurism and phil­an­thropy, Sandy Green­berg is more than well known. He is a leg­end. His sense of respon­si­bil­i­ty start­ed ear­ly; with his father’s ear­ly demise, he became the head of a near­ly impov­er­ished house­hold. Even then, this Buf­fa­lo native saw respon­si­bil­i­ty as opportunity.

When he lost his eye­sight in his junior year at Colum­bia Uni­ver­si­ty, he was under­stand­ably crushed, but he showed great resilience. In ways that this mem­oir makes pow­er­ful­ly real, he set as a goal to not be blind. Impos­si­ble, right? How­ev­er, by exer­cis­ing imag­i­na­tion and per­se­ver­ance through the loss­es due to blind­ness, Green­berg found the means to accom­plish his goals.

As he remem­bers his dif­fi­cult steps, they become lodged in his read­ers’ minds. He worked in Pres­i­dent Lyn­don Johnson’s White House, fin­ished grad­u­ate stud­ies at Har­vard Uni­ver­si­ty, and made and held onto good friends, some of whom con­tribute to this book. He found the per­fect wife and with her shared the joys and chal­lenges of par­ent­hood. His opin­ions were sought in the cor­ri­dors of pow­er, includ­ing his invest­ment savvy. (He had a home in The Water­gate Hotel.) He did not let his blind­ness dic­tate the path of his life. His sto­ry is a ton­ic for those whose set­backs lead to self-doubt, bit­ter­ness, and frus­tra­tion. He learned how to imag­ine what he could not see.

Green­berg shares all this with a mix­ture of humil­i­ty and pride. While con­sid­er­ing him­self the luck­i­est man in the world, Green­berg con­tin­ues to pur­sue goals old and new. One of these is the elim­i­na­tion of all forms of blind­ness. Though he is not heavy hand­ed about it, Green­berg attrib­ut­es his val­ues in large part to his Jew­ish upbring­ing, the ten­ants of which have stayed part of his life. He takes respon­si­bil­i­ty for tikkun olam (repair of the world) seriously.

The book pro­vides a long list of appoint­ments that have been foist­ed upon this non­stop giv­er over the years; he is Chair­man of the Board of Gov­er­nors of The Johns Hop­kins University’s Wilmer Eye Insti­tute, a fel­low of the Amer­i­can Acad­e­my of Arts and Sci­ence and of the Coun­cil on For­eign Rela­tions, he was appoint­ed by Pres­i­dent Clin­ton to the nation­al Sci­ence Board, which over­sees the Nation­al Sci­ence Foun­da­tion, and was a Mar­shall Schol­ar at Oxford University.

The book gains a lot of ener­gy from its dynam­ic por­trait of his long-time friend­ship with Art Gar­funkel, who may have paved the way to his inevitable and per­fect book title, Hel­lo Dark­ness, My Old Friend,” which is the name of one of Simon and Garfunkel’s biggest hits. Or maybe Paul Simon had some­thing to do with it.

Green­burg is gen­uine­ly thank­ful to all those who served as his read­ers.” By lis­ten­ing to them voice assigned col­lege texts, he could intel­lec­tu­al­ly and emo­tion­al­ly mas­ter all that his eyes could not dis­cern. His read­ers will be sim­i­lar­ly thankful.

Philip K. Jason is pro­fes­sor emer­i­tus of Eng­lish at the Unit­ed States Naval Acad­e­my. A for­mer edi­tor of Poet Lore, he is the author or edi­tor of twen­ty books, includ­ing Acts and Shad­ows: The Viet­nam War in Amer­i­can Lit­er­ary Cul­ture and Don’t Wave Good­bye: The Chil­dren’s Flight from Nazi Per­se­cu­tion to Amer­i­can Free­dom.

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