Friday, April 19, 2013

An Elegy for a Friend

Note:  My friend David died rather suddenly and completely unexpectedly last December.  I still feel aftershocks from that event, and I experienced a pretty rough one this week when his widow posted an old picture of him to Facebook.  I am beginning to think that the pain of losing a close friend never really goes away.  I am beginning to understand why my mother has always acted as if the death of her best friend in high school had happened yesterday.  In any case, I wrote the following to be read at Dave's memorial service in Milwaukee.  I attended the service in Omaha for his family, and my comments there were more impromptu.  In fact, my eulogy ended at the point where I started bawling and could no longer continue.  Four months later, I still feel his absence.


Of all the people I have ever known in my life, David was perhaps the most unique.  I have never met another person like him before or since, and always admired the courage of his individuality.  He was an unforgettable person.  My parents barely knew him, but even they immediately recalled stories of him after they learned of his passing.  However, unlike a lot of highly intelligent people who pride their individuality, David never seemed to harbor a single malicious feeling in his soul.

We met as 18 year old college freshmen, and we although we shared some cultural interests, we spent a lot of our time back then turning each other on to new things.  Without David I never would have known about films like the The Warriors or learned to have appreciated heavy metal, especially the Ronnie James Dio iteration of Black Sabbath.  Although I had read some of Nietzsche’s philosophy before we met, it is through David that I really began to understand it.  Our intellectual conversations are perhaps the deepest I have ever had, and I feel guilty to this day that I was only able to complete about fifty pages of Heidegger’s Being and Time, a book he purchased for me and never stopped talking about.

We both moved to Chicago at the same time, attending two different universities, me on the South Side and him on the North.  We had a lot of adventures together that year, and roomed together the next in an apartment in Rogers Park.  That year, which I spent working and Dave completing his master’s degree, was one of the most fulfilling of my life, in large part because I was living with David.  We traded thoughts, music, and films together, and often ended our days sitting on the back porch of our apartment, engaged in conversation.  We philosophized in dive bars, read together in coffee shops, and sustained ourselves on the greasy food of the local diners.  Of course, we also clashed over cleaning the apartment, where David in his characteristically witty fashion labeled me an Apollonian Bert and himself a Dionysian Ernie.  I have long looked fondly back on those days, and am still coping with the fact that I no longer have my compatriot to share those memories with. 

The biggest event of that year was surely David and Michelle meeting for the first time, which I can claim to have facilitated.  After conversing over the then newfangled invention of the internet, the two saw each other in the flesh after I drove Dave out to Iowa in my car.  I had another friend with me, and when we left Dave in Cedar Falls to his own devices, he had such a look of silent anxiety in his eyes.  The man was normally as unflappable as they come, so I must say I was a little worried.  When I showed up the next day to pick him up, his face looked quite different, and I knew that I had just done a little bit to make something really great come to life.  We took other road trips out to Cedar Falls, and composed our own dueling mix-tapes for the occasion.  I loved seeing David so obviously happy, and he and Michelle’s relationship gave me some hope for my own romantic future, which looked pretty bleak at the time. 

It was sad to say good-bye to Dave and Chicago, but we were lucky enough to see each other many times again, be it in Omaha, Milwaukee, Champaign, or even Berlin.  I cherished those visits, and when I moved from the Midwest to Texas and then New Jersey, I felt the absence of our time together, however infrequent it had been before. 

Even if I never got close to finishing Being and Time, I knew from our discussions that Martin Heidegger urged that one should live a “resolute” existence, to really mean what one does.  David certainly lived up to that ideal, which I know he set for himself.  To cite just one example, he did not just accept the exploitation of academic laborers like adjunct professors and graduate students, he actively fought against it.    He was more true to himself than I could ever hope to be, and it rips my heart out to think that such a wonderful person and true friend is no longer with us.  I can only say that I was supremely lucky to have known this great man as long as I did

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