Volume XI, Issue 24 ~ June 12-18, 2003

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Bay Reflections

Following in My Fathers’ Sentences
by Lauren Silver

Something must run in the family. As I begin my career as a writer, I discover that my father and his father are there before me.

“I like words,” said my dad.

An oncologist awaiting the publication of his first book, Bruce Silver offers me, his oldest daughter, a simple explanation for his motivations in composing a work that connects his photographs of Shenandoah National Park with his days spent doctoring cancer patients.

His book, tentatively called Cancer is Like the Wind, didn’t start as words — or even pictures.

A mountain man by hobby, he took to the woods to “escape the daily grind of dealing with cancer.”

Hiking alone left him feeling a spectator in nature’s show; taking pictures made him a director.

Soon, the self-taught photographer found emptiness in otherwise fully stocked bookshelves: The Shenandoah mountains were vastly underrepresented among their fellow landforms in photography books.

Worried that he might “dirty the natural world with human concerns and exploit the misery of patients,” my dad initially held off on his idea to write a book that fused the “restorative powers of the wilderness with cancer and stress.”

He refused to let the idea go, finally deciding to write the words he often wished he could say to his patients but could not.

So, following the lead of the natural world he photographs, my dad decided to tell it like it is.

On the human side, he includes realistic but often hopeful case histories of successful cancer patients. Exposing the all-too-often unsettling elements of stories that many of us would rather see left untold, he forces us to seek solace in his visuals of mother nature, who isn’t always full of sunshine and merriment herself.

But even during her harshest moments, she shows us a splendor all her own, much like my dad’s patients during their most trying times.

A frustrated physician. A healing photographer. A man who would not give up on his idea. The words eventually found my dad, and now he’s a writer.

His father, on the other hand, tells me that “literature today is not what it used to be.”

In writing his recently published historical novel, Against the Floods of Belial, my grandfather, at 77, tried to fill a slot on bookshelves that has been collecting dust due to a “coarsening of the country.”

Edwin Silver’s first book, too, found life long before words would complete it.

A self-taught historian who now dodges the fiction section at the bookstore, my grandfather has amassed a home library, over a span of time that far exceeds my 21 years, that provides a printed peek into the most pivotal period of his life: World War II.

Through his 18-year-old eyes, he saw his friends leaving, one by one, to fight the war he yearned to be part of.

Drafted, but only to be set up for the most crushing blow of his then-and-now life. Those same eyes, rejected by the military, held him back, keeping him home.

Against the Floods of Belial follows a German officer, Manfred, who serves in the Nazi regime while striving to maintain his dignity and uphold his principles. Determined to rescue a Jewish child destined for a concentration camp, Manfred embarks on a mission of humanity during a time when such deeds were punished by death.

My grandfather not only sees, but conducts, firsthand, the cause and struggle that his youthful self could only read in newspaper ink.

He does not, so much, cast off the powerlessness of his yesteryears as much as he let fly an idea that struck him at an age when he had the hindsight to reflect and the foresight to create.

This summer marks the start of my career as a writer.

Now this generation Xer realizes that the answers to her questions may not, after all, be found through some Internet search engine that begins an interminable trail of backwardly related websites or within the pages of a thrice-written legal thriller whose author has monopolized the New York Times’ Top Ten List. Perhaps it lies in my own genealogy.

Writing this, I have already wandered off the self-taught paths of my father and grandfather, for they have not given me the chance to learn for myself what my grandfather tells me, that “an idea, a simple thought doesn’t write a book.”

He’s right. My father and grandfather have both shown me that it’s not the idea that makes a writer, but her will to express it.

The words will follow.


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Last updated June 12, 2003 @ 1:22am