I see you never

There is a short story by Ray Bradbury–an underrated master of American literature–that I read long ago. In it, Mr. Ramirez, an illegal immigrant, and tenant of Mrs. O’Brian, is being taken away to be deported. He is a good man, and she likes him, but she is unable to help him in the face of the law. At the last moment, desperately, he cries out to her, “Oh, Mrs. O’Brian! I see you never! I see you never!” After he is gone, the woman starts to go on with her interrupted dinner, when she suddenly puts down her knife and fork, painfully struck by the realization that she will never see Mr. Ramirez again.

In winding up the details of my late mother’s estate there are large griefs and small ones. Each time I come back from her house I am spent from the turmoil of emotion. There are so many things to do: the paperwork, the bills, the wrapping, the packing, and the decisions about what remnants of my parents lives to keep and what to abandon. It is heavy work. I never liked the house itself, but the finality of each step of the parting beats on the walls of my heart.

The house will be sold tomorrow, so I was there yesterday to meet the movers. The mailman, whom I have known for decades, was on his way to deliver a package across the street, and he stopped to talk. He is a kind man, always smiling, and he delivered mail to me in my own small house when I lived in that town, as well as to my parents. I haven’t lived on his route for many years, but when we see each other we exchange pleasantries. He is, as a friend of mine likes to say, one of my life’s cast of characters. He doesn’t have a major part, but he has played in many small pleasant scenes, and his cheerful interactions have given me some of the happy little ordinary moments of everyday life.

Our conversation was light, and he enquired about the house. As we parted we shook hands for the first and only time, and I said to him something I don’t think I’ve ever said to anyone before: I will probably never see you again. I had to turn away quickly to hide my feelings.

The finality broke hard, and I cried all the way up to the house.

I don’t even know his name.

Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics

I was honored to be able to introduce Dr. Charles Krauthammer at the Milwaukee Public Library in 2014. I feel fortunate to have met him on several occasions, and found him to be soft-spoken and kind, and best of all, a dog lover. The world is a better place with him in it. He and his family are in my prayers today.

In this age of tweeted selfies, twerking and Miley Cyrus, Charles Krauthammer is that rare and essential thing: a public intellectual.

He is, by most estimates, the nation’s leading conservative commentator, noted for his insight, his wit, and his clarity of mind.

An alumnus of McGill, Balliol, and Harvard, trained as a doctor, along the way he re-invented himself as a writer. He has described his life story as improbable and characterized by serendipity and sheer blind luck.

He is the originator of the phrase “The Reagan Doctrine”, and he has been a keen observer of, and indeed, a profound influence on American foreign policy for over three decades.

He is distinguished by being, in his own words, “the only entity on earth, other than rogue states, that has received an apology from the White House.”

And he is a fierce opponent of the errant comma.

His most recent book, Things That Matter: Three Decades of Passions, Pastimes and Politics, is a collection of his columns. It is a wide-ranging demonstration of the breadth of his interests and the fluency of his thinking, all built on the fundamental premise that politics is just a means to an end; That it exists only to make possible the things that matter: friendship, love, art, philosophy, baseball, science, chess, nature.  Politics, for all its banality, is the essential platform for these real things. And if politics goes wrong, all these things—the things that matter—are destroyed.

In reading Dr. Krauthammer’s book you will learn—if you hadn’t already known it—that he is a man of deep feeling. The ringing simplicity of his eulogies to his brother, his mentor, his friend, the subtlety of his humor, and his relish for the ridiculous make his writings both companionable and engrossing.

And if the underlying compassion of his essays is not evidence enough of his character, Dr. Krauthammer is a dog lover. At the passing of his son’s black lab, Chester, he wrote:

Some will protest that in a world with so much human suffering, it is something between eccentric and obscene to mourn a dog. I think not. After all, it is perfectly normal, indeed deeply human to be moved when nature presents us with a vision of great beauty.

Should we not be moved when it produces a vision—a creature—of the purest sweetness?

And should we here tonight not be privileged to encounter a man of such depth and fundamental humanity?

March 6, 2014

Centennial Hall

Milwaukee, Wisconsin