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This I Believe New England - Second Chances by Bill Miles

For thirty-six years I kicked myself for blowing a chance to see my musical muse in concert. It was my summer break from college. I was backpacking solo in Europe and amassing emotional highs and lows. It was the kind of stuff my hero – the song-writer, poet, and bard Leonard Cohen – sang about. At least I liked to think he sang what I was feeling.

In a small French town along the Saone River, two retired brothers with scruffy beards from New Zealand – Claude and Gordon Brash –agreed to offer me passage on board their yacht. In exchange for my interpreting French and working on the boat, I could accompany them up and down the canals that they were then navigating, four years into their world tour. It seemed like the college kid’s lottery: free food and passage with wizened Kiwis along a bucolic stretch of France’s countryside.  But after almost a week, Gordon suggested I shove off. We were in Lyon.  

As I dejectedly hoisted my backpack and walked off the sloop for good, a poster along the canal immediately caught my eye: Leonard Cohen was performing, in town. Whether it was the hundred francs for a ticket or my rush to flee the scene of my shame, I let Leonard play without me. And regretted it ever since.

As I grew older – married, had children – I deliberately swore Leonard off. I decided his mournful and transgressive style was no longer compatible with my status as husband, father, provider, affirmer.

But then, just a year or two ago, I read that, as a result of personal betrayal and dire finances, in order to assure himself a decent pension an older Leonard Cohen was on tour again.  

 So, at seventy-eight years of age, the singer finally mesmerized me in Radio City Music Hall, my brother Robert – a white-haired singer and song-writer in his own right -- sitting by my side. Often on his knees, or standing immobile as band members took solos, Leonard in New York in 2013 was not what he must have been in Lyon in 1976.  He was undoubtedly better: wiser, humbler, mortal. And with a voice whose lowered register now brought you down with him more than you thought possible.

I believe that there are second chances in life. And that second chance may be even more enriching than the first one that you blew. With the passage of time, both you and your missed muse may very likely improve. You just need to be patient.


Bill Miles is the former Stotsky Professor of Jewish Historical and Cultural Studies at Northeastern University, where he teaches in the political science department.