Monday, December 05, 2005

Dan Hale

I didn't really know Dan, I met him once a couple of months ago at a party for L.'s department--he was, that particular evening, playing the role of techie spouse of an academic, just like me. A bunch of us went out to dinner afterwards, and I talked to him a little bit about things internet related. He was a pretty cool guy, I noticed that he was (literally and figuratively) soft-spoken, but otherwise he and his wife seemed young, normal, and happy.

Yesterday we attended his memorial service--he was diagnosed with esophageal cancer a couple of years ago, and died two weeks ago after a long battle with it. It was a service both nice and, you know, terrible--it's tragic, and then when it's somebody your age with a life a lot like your own, it's also pretty visceral.

One of Dan's friends who stood up to speak during the service brought up a TiBook to the microphone with him, he said, "Sorry, I hope the laptop isn't tacky, but I was working on this speech until ten minutes ago." He read from his screen a description of his relationship with Dan, which, as it turned out, was almost entirely virtual. They'd been friends for ten years and, up until last month, they'd met in person a total of three times. Somewhere in the middle of this heartfelt eulogy about a relationship literally created out of email and hypertext, I thought, "I'm seeing something right here. And I don't quite know what it is."

Twenty-four hours later, I think what I thought I was seeing and what I was actually seeing (or wasn't actually seeing, as the case may have been) are two different things. I've talked about the subject a lot lately, and I guess it might seem like I don't think that Being-In-The-World (hey, Red started it) is any different today than, say, ten years ago when these two people met, because obviously it is, especially in the Heideggerian sense (I mean, hell, it's getting pretty hard to argue that your Virtual Being isn't a necessary component of In-The-World-Ness these days). For me the whole phenomenon is kind of koan-ic (no, it's not a word. And it certainly doesn't sound alarmingly like 'colonic.' Please move along, there is nothing to see here)--what appears different about life Now versus Then is not different; what you think has not changed between Then and Now actually has (this wants explanation, but it's too much of a digression right now. So, later).

No, what I came up with here, twenty-four hours later, was this: grief is also transcendant, in the same way that joy is. It takes you out of yourself, to that place where nothing else matters, an experience which turns out not to necessarily hinge on being joyous at all. That's what I was seeing, that humanness transcends the laptop and the email and the hypertext and all the rest of it. And I might have been able to see it a little better had I not been sitting there watching Dan's friend pour out his soul and thinking, "Wow, I'm seeing something right here. I'm going to have to decide what it is and go blog about it later."

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