Forty-seven years ago, Michael discovered his soulmate Deborah on a dance floor in Keene, New Hampshire. It took her soul a few years and an around-the-world bike trek to fully reciprocate. Riding the Edge is the astonishing tale of the six-month odyssey that profoundly shaped the next 564 months of their lives together.
Taking place in 1980, Michael and Deborah—an American Jew and American Arab, respectively—leave the security of their well-ordered lives as psychologists sleepwalking toward marriage and family to explore and take risks in search of life’s larger truths.
What they find is a story of magnificent vistas and memorable moments that enliven their senses to the beauty of the world even as it also reveals the vilest of human cruelty.
Simple meals become transcendent experiences, chance encounters are serendipitous markers along a road directing them toward personal and spiritual transformation. Each place leaves its mark—Paris and the French countryside, Italy, Greece, war-torn Beirut, Israel—and each person an imprint even as Deborah and Michael struggle to find the truth of their love. Have they found a life partner or merely a steppingstone to another, deeper connection?
It’s a journey that has a mind and heart of its own.
In the end, each story, meal, kindness, and cruelty uncover the humanness that connects all living things and shows that love is a powerful, healing life force.
Michael Tobin has been an author and playwright since he was twelve when he wrote a monumental play about the Warsaw Ghetto uprising that had over 20,000 actors on stage at one time. For logistical reasons it was never produced. On his way to becoming a psychologist, he was a former US Army officer, glacier climber, marathon runner, and restauranteur. He also claims to be the first entrepreneur to introduce granola to Connecticut.
By two in the morning, five weeks after first laying eyes on her, I showed my hand. The crazy thing was that my “I love you” was so unrehearsed, and so unlike me to express, that it had to be real — terrifyingly so. Like I’d just discovered the other half of my soul and come home. A lot scarier, in fact, because in a moment of health, you can always walk away from the madness of love. But how can you leave a part of yourself?
We choose love over fear.
For the next six days, we create a Paris state of mind:
We find a super cool café on the Left Bank close to the iconic bookstore, Shakespeare and Company.
She finds a table, sits alone, and I approach her as if this is our first encounter.
I say, “I see you’re alone. Are you waiting for someone?” (She replies no. I detect a slight smile. A green light? I make my move.) “Would you mind if I join you?”
She hesitates and then replies, “Why not?”
“I’m Michael and you are?”
“Deborah.” She waits, the tension builds. The ball is in my court. Do I begin with a compliment, a question, or with the unexpected sleight of hand? In the subtle dance between the sexes, you don’t want your first step to be the one that lands on her foot. So I ask, “What’s the one line I can say that will knock your socks off?”
She laughs and says, “You may have just said it.” (We pass the first hurdle. We’re attuned, open to what may be . . .)
A French moment ripe with possibility and romance? A spark, ready to ignite? A pleasant glow, about to turn into a warmer fire? A few shared details provide context and color — call it the oxygen needed to keep the flame alive. Both of us travel solo — more freedom to be with or to be alone. Appealing and Challenging.
Appealing: The hunt is far more alluring when the prey is quicker and less vulnerable.
Challenging: The so-called prey makes a one-eighty, gazes directly into the black piercing eyes of the predator, and asks, “So why me?”
“Because you’re beautiful in a smart, powerful way . . . Because we’re in the City of Light and Love and I don’t want to lose the moment . . . Because I feel this magnetic pull toward you . . . Because . . . You want me to keep going? I have more.”
“Flattering . . . let’s save it for later. Let’s spend the day together.”
Then again, there’s something about the sophistication of French food that engages your mind and causes you to pause in wonder at the array of flavors that awaken your gustatory intelligence. French cuisine makes you think, demands discernment, and astonishes you with how a culinary genius can awaken the brilliant tastes in this simple onion soup and Caesar salad that we’re currently waxing transcendent over.
Onion soup with a perfect layer of Gruyère resting on a slice of French bread that barely conceals the aromatic bouquet of sautéed onions, white wine, and beef broth.
Caesar salad with salty anchovies, fresh parmesan, and one beautiful egg, a hair’s breadth from hard, nestled in a bed of fresh romaine. Oh, the croutons . . . crispy with a hint of garlic and lemon juice. And the pièce de résistance: Dijon dressing seasoned to perfection with freshly ground pepper and Worcestershire sauce.
As much as Samya and Yvonne try to be polite and inquire about our trip and our American lives, the conversation quickly reverts to the situation. Samya asks us who we supported in the recent presidential election. She doesn’t wait for our answers; she and Yvonne tell us they supported Carter because “he’s not a Jewish puppet.”
Samya informs us, “The Jews control the U.S. government, the press, and the banks. Hitler had the right idea. It’s a shame he didn’t have enough time to complete the job.”
I listen without reacting.
Grinding the half-smoked Gitanes into the ashtray and taking out her fourth cigarette from the leather case, she repeats the ritual — tapping, lighting with her expensive gold cigarette lighter, and exhaling a long stream of smoke through her nose. She looks at both of us and then spits out the inevitable words, “I hate Arafat and his Palestinian criminals, but it’s the Jews I hate the most.”
Tuning back in, I only catch the end of her story, “We’re a poor country; we can’t take care of 250,000 Palestinians. They rot in their filthy, overcrowded refugee camps with no chance of a better life. It’s the Jews’ fault. They gave us this tumor.”
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