Riva Lehrer. I didn't know she was a woman until I got nearly through with the August 9 article posted below. I found it under "curiosities" at the New York Times site. It did not make any difference as far as I am concerned. What Riva has accomplished suggests that she is not a curiosity at all. She is a hero.


No hero gets to be one who has not been part of a community, suffered humiliation, and somehow learned good lessons along the hard journey. I have friends like Riva. A guy who was stricken with polio as a kid and fought through on a lifetime of crutches and other challenges to become one of the nation's prime rare book dealers.

Such people are the ultimate realists.

We have it easy

They know nothing is easy and nothing will work if it's not the best possible effort. What is really curious is that those of us who have had an easier time do not grasp the opportunity with the same enthusiasm. Riva would be nowhere were she not free to choose among options and values. That is all anyone can do. The choices are what make the difference.

Here is Riva's story:

This is a riveting tale. The short sentence above is accurate. Riva could have dropped off the world's radar. But a free and ethical doctor knew that waiting for two years in the late 1950s would be a death warrant.

So he operated on Riva when she was just born. Bingo. Oh, but there were 16 more operations to come.


One is tempted to moralize from this story about those who have what we call pre-existing conditions. We should see Riva's story as an example of triumph in a time when people have been determined by many politicians to be worthless chips in a financial game.

Truth and beauty

To make beauty out of your mind, out of your seeing, is something every child on the planet should do. We are all aesthetic and everything we do reflects who we are. We are the products of our expressions and actions. Riva's work is all over now in museums and galleries. She wears baggy clothes so her shape will not attract untoward attention.

Our journey

Degrees of challenge vary. Each day for some is a revelation. When it is not, the problem lies with us. We are creators. Artists. Aesthetic is not for museums and professionals alone. It is for every creature, even in a society that thinks the arts are toast compared to what will get us a job somewhere.

A great novelist

Dostoevsky is counted among a handful of the world's greatest writers. His themes are freedom and grace. His penchant is for what the world regards as unacceptable, ugly, strange. We shy away from the things about ourselves that offend us. We do so with others as well. When the great monk Zossima in "The Brothers Karazazov" dies, there is an unholy smell.

Nothing in any of us is beautiful until we are able to hallow it with our thanks for the gift of life itself.