Meditations for People in Crisis

The Ithaca Journal article 1996


"Couple's book grew from cancer diagnosis"

Ithaca -Leslie and Sam Cohen spent much of their long and happy marriage studying philosophy in a search for life's deepest meanings.

So their decision to edit a small book Meditations for People in Crisis was very much a natural continuation of that search. The occasion was the doctor's diagnosis in October 1994 that Leslie had lymphocytic leukemia.

Sam said most of the book was done in Arizona, where Leslie was being treated, beginning in early 1995. Some of it was completed when Leslie was in the hospital, in the final stages of the illness as chemotherapy dripped into her veins. "The process was wonderfully educational," said Sam in an interview Tuesday. "It helped us."

The Cohens' hope was that it would also be helpful to other people in crisis.

On a very short list of necessities for a philosophical life is the need to be of service, said Sam, who is director of the Ithaca Youth Bureau. Leslie was a Montessori teacher and artist.

Leslie died in May. She was 53 years old, as is Sam. Their book based on the work of British philosopher Paul Brunton was published in June. The story of how the meditations came to be edited by the Cohens, and, especially, based on the work of Brunton, is very much the story of the Cohens' marriage and their philosophical quests. Individual quests, Sam emphasizes.

The Cohens met as undergraduate students in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University. When they were 22 the Cohens married.

"Fortunately, we shared similar life visions," he said. That included working and traveling all over the world, which they proceeded to do for nine years. On a visit to Ithaca to see Leslie's brother, the Cohens were taken to a lecture by Anthony Damiani at the American Brahmin bookstore. "I was stunned. I had met my teacher and I knew it," said Cohen. Damiani was a student of Brunton's.

The Cohens then left for Denmark, but eventually came back to Ithaca. Both of them continued to study the works of Brunton with Damiani. Brunton, Sam explained was a widely traveled journalist who wove together philosophies from many traditions into nine best-sellers in England.

The central message is to live up to the highest understandings you have, Sam said. He believes Leslie prolonged her life because of the understanding that you live every day fully.

"You can live a full life quietly," he said.

The Cohens were working on a companion book when Leslie died.