Wednesday, June 13, 2012

A death, and a life

Back in Maine after an absence of 10 days. The length of the absence was planned, but not its character. A dear friend died on June 2 and we drove to Michigan for the memorial services.

This is neither the time nor the place to think about agony and what it means - that a 58-year-old at the height of his career, in a place he loved, with the most wonderful wife and sons, could die of a brain tumor - but rather about community. Our friend, after some years of wandering the halls of academe, came back to the part of the world in which he grew up, a conscious decision to embrace a community that has numerous faults of insularity, racism, and pride as well as its virtues of kindness and industry. Yet that's where he came from, that's where many of his family and in-laws still lived, that's where he felt he could make the most difference, even though in Massachusetts and Ohio and Indiana and the innumerable places abroad where he and Pat taught, they inspired hundreds, perhaps thousands, of us to work for peace and justice and tolerance and love. He could do more, and did.

The visitation evening at the funeral home was so packed with people that it took us half an hour just to reach  Pat and sons and give them brief hugs and tears. Next morning the church was completely full for the memorial service. I stand in awe of a life that was so full of people, but David had the ability to make every one of us believe that, except for an accident of time and space, we would be his inseparably best friend.

His religion played a large part in this outpouring of love and support.But if there ever was strong evidence that religion is just another way in which humans differ, David was it. It did not seem to matter to him. A community, a friend, was a matter of love, not doctrine. That I had left the place and beliefs he went back to seemed to mean nothing. He still loved me, and that's what I now take back to a very different life of small family and limited friends and much time spent alone in Maine - that I must try to understand the person behind the pose and the posturing and the fearfulness, even in these mean and divisive times.

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