Real Life Returns

Illustration by Kurt Wiese
All The Mowgli Stories, Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., 1936

Real Life Returns

I’ve just finished writing and footnoting an article, exploring new territory, with potential impact in a controversy that’s been roiling opinion-shapers for decades.  Tonight I sent it to an editor at an influential journal of opinion who has signaled that he is receptive.

Of course, I’ve said things along these expectantly hopeful lines before, in this column.  As my mother used to say, “the unexpected always happens.”  In this case, the unexpected would be that … nothing happens.  Or a flower pot could fall on my head, and with it – there goes the influential article.  Instead we have to line up the mourners for a very small, local, social event: my funeral.

But as of now, I rather think something will happen, meaning that this article could well be accepted by an appropriate editor.  I am not trying to get rich and famous.  I am trying to say something that hasn’t been said and ought to be said.  How does that make me feel I wonder.

It makes me feel like a very small child, walking through the tall, sunlit grass, pushing back the dandelions on the path.  Instead of feeling like a grownup who’s applied for epaulettes of her own, I feel … like a kid again.

At Camp Hilltop, the bungalow colony in the Watchung hills of New Jersey where we kids spent our summers, we only took our parents along because somebody had to cook and pay the rent.  But it was essentially our place.  I named all my friends after the animal characters in Kipling’s Jungle Book, reserving “Mowgli,” the name of the boy who was raised by the wolves, for myself.

I fought my first battle against injustice there.  I was six and Jan, the unjust boy, was five.  So maybe you’ll think it was an unfair combat.  Why fight a smaller kid?

Well he may have been smaller, but he was certainly badder.  It started when we were all sitting on the porch steps of one of the bigger bungalows.  Jan came along with a hammer.  We wore sandals.  That gave Jan the idea of going from bare foot to foot to hammer our toes.  Nobody said anything.  They all sat there while Jan took his turn at each set of toes.  The big kids were just putting up with it.

That didn’t look right to me.  Before Jan could smash my toes, I rose to my feet and said loftily,

“This time, Jan, you’ve gone too far.”

I didn’t know what that meant exactly, but all the other kids did.  It meant, we had to have a fight.  It was first (and, to date, my last) combat with fisticuffs.

I didn’t like it one bit, and would have run away as soon as Jan’s first blow landed, but the other kids wouldn’t let me.  The had formed a circle around the combatants and were yelling,

“Don’t run away, Abby!”

As Johnny Cash says in “A Boy Named Sue,”

“What could I do?”

Jan ran away first.  It was counted a famous victory.

I was ten when I met my first romance at Hilltop.  Arnie.  He was twelve.  We played tetherball.  He coached me to swim more lengths of the pool.  That was as far as it went.  He won the name of Baloo, the bear in Jungle Book.  Mowgli’s friend.

Flossie was Bagheera, the black panther.  I thought she was the most wonderful person in the world.  She was thirteen, which is much more elevated than ten.  Together with a girl who lived in the compound of the farmer down the road who kept horses, we went on a tearing gallop up Old Stony Road.  In this world, it hardly gets better than that.

So why, having just finished an extremely grownup thing, an article taking moral risks in a real controversy, do I remember Camp Hilltop and feel like a kid?

It’s been a long and stony road.  I don’t know where Arnie is now, or Flossie, or poor Jan.  But I feel like I’m in the midst of …

real life again.

About Abigail

Abigail Rosenthal is Professor Emerita of Philosophy, Brooklyn College of CUNY. She is the author of A Good Look at Evil, a Pulitzer Prize nominee, now available in an expanded, revised second edition and as an audiobook. Its thesis is that good people try to live out their stories while evil people aim to mess up good people’s stories. Her next book, Confessions of a Young Philosopher, forthcoming and illustrated, provides multiple illustrations from her own life. She writes a weekly column for her blog, “Dear Abbie: The Non-Advice Column” ( where she explains why women's lives are highly interesting. She’s the editor of the posthumously published Consolations of Philosophy: Hobbes’s Secret; Spinoza’s Way by her father, Henry M. Rosenthal. Some of her articles can be accessed at . She is married to Jerry L. Martin, also a philosopher. They live in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
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2 Responses to Real Life Returns

  1. Johan Herrenberg says:

    Yes, when you step out into the unpredictable, life can hit you with all the freshness of childhood. Beautiful piece! Good luck, Abigail!

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