Safer and Brookhiser

Sunday, May 25, 2008

They met at a gathering of the Renaissance Street Singers, a little band of Manhattan professionals whose idea of fun is singing 15th-century sacred music in the bustling mayhem of Grand Central Terminal or Washington Square. She sang soprano. He sang bass.

She was a psychotherapist, trained to get at the heart of a patient's private problems. He wrote very public opinions for the National Review.

She was a liberal from Cincinnati. He was a conservative from Rochester, N.Y.

He started writing remarkably early in life. She started late.

Richard Brookhiser was 15 when his first published piece, a stinging critique of the 1969 student antiwar protests, appeared on the cover of the National Review. After graduating from Yale, he joined the magazine's staff. He went on to be a regular columnist for the New York Observer. He has written 10 books on history, among them Founding Father (which historian Joseph J. Ellis praised as belonging "on the same shelf as Plutarch") and, most recently, What Would the Founders Do? This month sees the publication of his newest work, George Washington on Leadership.

It wasn't until her mid-40s, while rummaging through her childhood diaries, that Jeanne Safer recalled that she had always dreamed of being a writer. She had studied psychology at the University of Chicago and the New School for Social Research, and set up a practice instead. Her first published piece was for The Post's Travel section -- on shopping for belly dancing costumes in the markets of Istanbul. Her debut book, released when she was almost 50, was Beyond Motherhood: Choosing a Life Without Children. She wrote three more, the most recent of which is Death Benefits: How Losing a Parent Can Change an Adult's Life -- For the Better . An expert on mental health issues, she frequently writes and speaks on the subject.

The two Renaissance singers say their dramatically opposed ideologies have never made a dent on three decades of happiness. The only time politics enters into it is when an election comes around. "We've gotta vote!" says she. "Right!" says he. "We've got to cancel each other out!"

Now that's harmony.

-- Marie Arana

© 2008 The Washington Post Company