I spoke with my good friend Daniel Gray yesterday for about 2 hours and, as usual, talking with him always makes me feel better and enriches my life. He is truly one of the finest people I’ve ever known.
I taught university philosophy at various institutions for thirty years from 1987 – 2017. During that time I had between 8,000 and 10,000 students. Of all those students—sad to say—I remember only about 50 of them really well.
And of those, there are only two with whom I still have regular contact. (This is partly due to the fact that we have moved around the country.) One is my son-in-law who took two of my classes at UT-Austin where he met my daughter. The other is a young man I met while teaching briefly at Shoreline Community College near Seattle. In the ensuing years, we have become good friends and regularly get together. (He is pictured above at his graduation from The University of Washington.)
A few years ago I wrote him a congratulatory email which he humbly described as “about the nicest thing anyone has ever written or said to me.” That may be true but it is nearly impossible not to love Daniel. He is a man of intellectual and moral virtue—possessing both a careful and conscientious mind as well as a humble and honorable soul. He is the epitome of courage. In short, he is one of the “good guys” in this world. Here is my letter:
June 14, 2019
Congratulations! The road to your degree was much more difficult for you than for many others—just getting to class is tough for you. You should be proud.
I still remember seeing you wheel through the door of room 1812 at Shoreline CC about eight years ago. You stuck out—being late, and as tall sitting as I am standing—and you had a big smile on your face. You cracked some joke shortly thereafter and I thought—I like this guy! A very clear memory. I thought I had a lot to teach Daniel, little did I know he had a lot to teach me.
Daniel, you are a world-class human being, one of the few such people I’ve ever known. Consider how many persons seek nothing but money or fame or power, while you mostly seek wisdom and truth and love.
And while I’m sure life is tough on you in ways I can’t imagine, you never whine, complain, or bemoan. You have found the Stoics’ secret to happiness—not getting what you want but wanting what you get. And this is in a world where people who have it all are constantly dissatisfied. They are rich but want to be richer, powerful but want more power, famous but not famous enough. They are lucky enough to play golf under blue skies but then complain that the round is too slow; they buy expensive things but are dissatisfied with them.
Let me just say that some of the most memorable times I’ve had in the last few years have been when we motored around your neighborhood and I tried to keep up while listening to your jokes. And thanks too for listening to an old retired philosophy professor pontificate—something he really misses doing. You always let me babble on about something stupid without interruption. I’m so garrulous.
And let me also say that no matter how painful and tragic and meaningless life is, you are a shining star in all this madness. Knowing you has been a great privilege, and one of the things that have made my own life worth living. You are making what Joseph Campbell called, the hero’s journey. You are, like Dicken’s Copperfield, the hero of your own life. And you have enriched mine more than you know.
Finally let me say, Daniel, as Plato did of his beloved friend Socrates, that you are, of all those I’ve known, one of “the best and wisest and most just.”
with my deepest affection,
with my most fervent wishes for your future health and happiness,