There it was, staring at me like an omen over and over—the number 42. Two days after the death of Harry Kalas, who along with the late Richie Ashburn served as the greatest storytellers of my childhood while announcing Philadelphia Phillies baseball on the radio and TV, I was watching a bit of a major league game on Jackie Robinson Day and getting a clear intimation of my own mortality. This year, Major League Baseball honored Jackie Robinson’s breaking of the color barrier by having every player wear the number 42 (above). Coincidentally, I turn 42 years old today. Baseball has always been a big part of my life, surprisingly so considering how poorly I played it. The whole history of America is so tightly bound up in baseball (cue James Earl Jones giving that speech at the end of Field of Dreams) that it pushes all my buttons. Baseball is great poetry, great history, great art, great everything to me. I’ve become my father in the respect that now I’m the Dad who can tell “I remember when...” stories about players from more than 30 years ago. Alex is still too young to understand such stories (and Annie asks me to tell her one only when she’s fighting insomnia), but I can’t wait to pass on that oral history to him when the time comes. Who knew that so much meaning could come in the shape of a ball?
The number 42 has equal significance to me thanks to Douglas Adams’ hilarious science fiction novel The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (above). Adams has a computer named Deep Thought ponder “the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.” After 7.5 million years of computerized pondering, Deep Thought spits out the answer “42.” When I first read Adams’ geek ur-text, I didn’t know what Dada was, but that was a perfect Dada answer. As my age and cholesterol levels rise and footspeed and hairline recede, I find myself waxing philosophical more and more about the “Ultimate” questions. Many of those philosophical mini-quests play themselves out in the posts that appear here at Art Blog By Bob. Works of art, in any media, have always been touchstones for me. I come back to great paintings and poems at different times of my life looking for different answers to address the questions most present in my mind. At 42, the questions usually center on the idea that I’ve reached the halfway point of life. At the top of the metaphorical hill I turn around and survey where I’ve been, hoping it will give me some clue as to where I’ll be going. I guess Adams’ answer was that looking for answers is less important than the journey itself, the “hitchhiking” we all do through our slice of the universe. I recently read a great quote by a Sufi master named Abu Yazid al-Bistami: “This thing we tell of can never be found by seeking, yet only seekers find it.” Just because the answers may never come, doesn’t mean that you should stop looking for them. The answer is the looking.
Most of the answers to my life come from the two most important people in it—Annie and Alex (above, sitting in a giant flower at the Philadelphia Zoo). They are my life, my universe, my everything. I look at Annie and wonder what I did to be so lucky to have her love in my life. I look at Alex and marvel at what he is now and what amazing things await him in the future. Without their support and occasional kick in the pants, I wouldn’t be half the person I am today. They’ve made me a better “seeker” than I ever was before. I’m looking at a great leap into the relative unknown looming on the near horizon that will change my life (and theirs) not with dread but with a sense of excitement and purpose that I haven’t felt for years in my professional life. (More details to follow shortly. Sorry.) If all goes well, the same enthusiasm and joy I hope comes through in this blog will spill over into new compartments of my existence. In some ways this blog was the beginning of a quest that will end in a very different place than it started. Thanks to everyone who’s come along for the ride with me. I hope you stay and watch what’s to come over the course of the next 42 years, or more.