I love New York. People here are fascinating. I start a discussion with someone and he or she turns out to have a dazzling, heart-palpitating personal story of love and loss, victory and humiliation, exalted communion and dark nights of the soul. Is there no one in this glorious, feral, bursting city who is ordinary?

Many of my neighbors in my apartment building are like this: possessed of extraordinary life histories. A decade ago in Steamboat Springs, my former husband and I and our two children got trapped on the top of a mountain in a white out. We made it into the restaurant near the peak and sat at a table with hot cocoa. Our downstairs neighbor Stephen Baldwin skiied in, looking for the same warm respite. He’d been the one to recommend Steamboat to us, and he was there with some of his teenage kids and his wife.

The three of us–Stephen, my former husband, and I–fell to yakking, sharing anecdotes to pass the time. At one point I looked across the table and asked, “What is it you do at the United Nations, Stephen? I don’t think you ever told us.”

Stephen grinned and started to talk. His dad was JFK’s ambassador to Malaysia. Stephen himself, as a boy, was lost in the jungles of Peru and tattooed by head-hunters in Borneo; as a young man, he wrestled a Bengal tiger and ran with the bulls; as an adult, he set up an underground railroad for Bengali revolutionary leaders to escape a brutal Pakistani regime…. What unfolded was the tale of a brilliant and peripatetic soul who held a vision of the world as a community, and who was committed to world service. My former husband and I were spellbound. It wasn’t just the adventures, it was also the keen and wondering sense of curiosity, of observation, with which Stephen so deeply engaged his life.

“There’s a book here, Stephen,” I said finally. And he took me at my word, and wrote the book. SHADOWS OVER SUNDIALS Dark and Light: Life in a Large Outside World has arrived. I recommend it to everyone.

see Stephen’s website at www.cstephenbaldwin.com

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