So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart… Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide… When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
That was one of your favorite quotes, from Tecumseh. I know this because I saw you moved to tears by it when we watched Act of Valor, a truly strange war movie starring active-duty Navy SEALs. Don’t think I’m going to let you live that down just because you’ve sung your song now.
When I began working at the Roosevelt Institute, I was in New York and you were based in D.C. The first time I ever saw you was not in person, but on a student-made poster that had been hung up in our office. It showed the image at the top of this post with a caption that read, for reasons that surpass understanding, “There Is Nothing to Beast But Beast Itself.”
Naturally, my reaction was something like “Who the #$@! is this guy, and why are our students making propaganda posters about him?”
Then I met you, and I understood.
We worked side by side only for a brief time, but we became fast friends. Though I was a New Yorker and you were the most Ohioan person I have ever met, we shared a similar discomfort traveling in the elite liberal think tank sphere, as if we’d received someone else’s invitations to the cocktail party and were just trying to muddle through without spilling anything.
We talked about a lot of things in those days: politics and policy, of course; the problems of urban elitism and rural resentment; the aesthetic appeal of short skirts matched with tall boots; your dream of cuddling a baby jaguar.
We went to Coney Island to see a Cyclones game that was being played in Connecticut, skipped the shuttle to Giants Stadium to drink pumpkin ale, and sat out in the cold at the Army–Rutgers game while we talked about the nature of faith and God.
Shortly after you cried at the movies and decided to move back to Ohio (seriously, never going to let you forget it), I wrote you a message that read, in part:
[Y]ou’re one of the only people I know who always has something interesting to say, even if it’s about a topic I never would have thought to have an opinion on.
I was the one who worked in communications, but you were always the natural storyteller, commanding the attention of any room you were in. I wish you could tell me another story now, because I don’t like the one I read today at all.
It’s hard to believe that you’re gone. Especially now, when we so badly need you to lead and inspire us. I suggested to some of our mutual friends that you’d gotten so fed up with the state of the world that you’d decided to take the fight to a higher plane of existence. It was a joke at first, but I think I’ve convinced myself that you’re off to rattle your chains at all enemies foreign and domestic.
Except that’s not quite right, is it? You’ve never been the type to be chained, at least not for long.
Perhaps in your case we can say that you wear the change you forged in life.
Forge on, Reese.