© Jeff Matthews
entry June 6, 2012
Herman Chanowitz, Rest
I've never known anyone whose soul
did so much hand-clapping and singing as did Herman's. His
body aged on him, as it must with all of us, but his mind
was never paltry. Never. He kept throughout his life the
vital intelligence and curiosity of a ten-year old, and it
got trapped in a 100-year-old body, that's all. He loved
to tell you about the books he had just read, and he loved
to laugh and hit you in the arm just before he told you!
If the whole world were like Herman, we'd all have sore
arms, but the world would be a much better place.
In Sailing to Byzantium,
Yeats says this:
An aged man is but a paltry
A tattered coat upon a
Soul clap its hands and
sing, and louder sing
For every tatter in its
I don't know if it's possible for the whole world
to be like Herman. We can hope. Herman was a truly good
person —transcendently good, in the sense of being above
harming others or even holding bad thoughts. It's not that
he had not seen evil; he certainly had. Herman saw things
that made some people ask, "How can you speak of goodness
and beauty when there is such evil in the world?" I don't
know —but you can. I have no idea whether good will
eventually triumph over evil, or vice-versa, or whether
it's a perpetual stand-off. At least I can say that the
life of Herman Chanowitz makes me feel that Good stands a
not a particularly religious person, but Herman is enough
to make me believe in angels, beings that are among us for
a little while to show us how to lead a good life. If you
are a philosopher or preacher and you have Herman around,
you don't have to worry about telling people what divine
rules to obey. You just point to Herman and tell folks to
"Follow that guy around. Do what he does. Be like him."
So, as in Hamlet, if flights of angels are singing Herman
to his rest, one of them is probably saying, "Herman,
buddy, where've you been? You broke up our game. I thought
you were just stepping out for a second. I was holding a
pair of queens, too. Anyway, a century? Nice going!" And
Herman will pound him on the arm and explain that he is in
the middle of this fascinating book...
I include my favorite picture of Herman, jaunty
and about to head down the steps that lead to Sorrento,
one of his favorite places, where they loved him —as did
we all. I have also included a second photo that I suspect
he must have posed for at some time. He and I walked by
that statue one time, and I said, "Herman, that guy looks
like you. He is sure acting
Herman said, "He's got hair."
Well, maybe that was long ago in another lifetime.
That, too, gives me hope.
Rest in peace, dear Herman, and thank you for being
such a good friend.
I shall always be grateful to Herman for
his contributions to these pages. He was the one behind
the WW II Oral History;
he also shared his photos
of Mt. Vesuvius and contributed other miscellaneous material.