My Twice-Lived Life

Donald M. Murray’s touching and revealing memoir is so well-crafted, My Twice-Lived Life could be titled Your Twice-Read Book. Skillfully finding words to express thoughts and memories, Murray shows that writing is a trade to be developed with curiosity, patience, methodical practice, and old-fashioned work. The results here demonstrate once more what a journeyman writer he is.

That said, the small book also presents large lessons. In his series of reflections, the chief lesson is that aging is quite interesting, offering a rare opportunity to reassess one’s life, to fine-tune memories of the past and priorities for the future, and to enjoy.

The nineteen short essays—remembrances, really, about matters as mundane as restroom accidents and as profound as the death of a child—the veteran Boston Globe columnist and college teacher relays, somehow makes the deeply personal nicely universal. Richly so.

Readers discover his apparently lousy childhood and mostly charmed wartime experience, his heart attack months after retirement and his accumulation of the delightful debris that makes up homes; his sorrows, joys, anxieties, fears, and wonders about many aspects of his own life.

There’s an overall balance that he endured and enjoyed—one that most people probably have without much awareness. Retreating from beatings by bullies or his own parents, Murray found books and his imagination. Working at careers, he’s failed and succeeded. Caring for his wife, a breast cancer survivor who has diabetes and Parkinson’s Disease, Murray seems to have embraced the routine and appreciate each day. A curious blend of private and gregarious, Murray likes solitude and lasting friendships.

He expresses amusement that people, including himself, go through life wearing masks and costumes of roles they take up. He expresses concerns many feel about a loss of control, and unexpectedly notes that with fewer obligations comes more freedoms. Finally, Murray expresses thoughts—and words—that are less about growing old than about growing up, less about age than life.