On Thursday, January 29, 2004 at about 8 pm, I watched my best friend die. It had been a cold and grey day in Madison, WI. I was with Lynn’s family in the hospital, and I felt lucky to be with them and also like an intruder on this most intimate moment.
Since this day, rarely a week passes that I don’t think of Lynn. I’ve been thinking about writing a book, and the title of this post is the best that I came up with. A combination of lack of time, confusion about our long friendship and what it meant to me, and not wanting to get details wrong are some of the reasons that I haven’t written it yet. And to channel Lynn’s likely response (with a grin and twinkle in his eye), “get off your high horse, you’ve just been a lazy ass!”
Recently through the wonders of the internet, one of Lynn’s high school buddies found me after finding an old post about about Lynn on this blog. I didn’t use his last name, but the combination of Lynn, St. John’s College, and who knows what else led Bruce to find me, and we realized that our Lynn was the same guy. A few weeks after connecting with Bruce, Lynn’s brother Wes contacted me after hearing from Bruce. Then a few days later, Lynn’s daughter reached out to me and wanted to learn more about her dad, so I decided to get off my ass and turn the phantom book into a series of blog posts.
I first saw Lynn in the fall of 1979 at our matriculation into the 1983 class at St. John’s college. I remember clearly (though with some details a bit blurry now) an amazing-looking guy walking across the stage from the right to the left. He had bright red hair that hadn’t been combed in a long time. If he had been wearing shoes, they were his typical untied and beat-up sneakers that probably reeked for the people in the first few rows. The only other shoes I ever saw him wear back then were hiking boots. He was wearing baggy and very worn blue jeans that were too long and had holes worn by his walking on them. If he had been wearing a belt, it would have been a rope. He probably had on a tee-shirt. And I’m pretty certain that he had a worn paperback book in his back pocket, because I rarely saw him without that.
Many of us at least combed our hair for that important ceremony that would launch us into our quest to become philosophers. A month or so earlier, I had bought my entire set of books (THE Great Books) at a used book store in Salt Lake City, and I proudly had them on a book shelf in my dorm room. Lynn never had anything other than beat up paperbacks, not always Great Paperbacks.
St. John’s College is an amazing educational experience. Everyone starts as a freshman and goes through an identical curriculum using only the Great Books. You can’t transfer into St. John’s, because you would not have the shared experience. Professors are called “tutors”, and every tutor eventually teaches every class. Students develop a shared and very rich learning experience that grows over time. There are no tests, no grades, and (with a few exceptions in the final two years) no electives. The first year we read and discussed Homer, Euclid, Plato, Aristotle, Lavoisier, Copernicus, Ptolemy, and several others. We also studied ancient Greek. Our classes were small: about a dozen students with 1 or 2 (for seminar) tutors.
About 4-5 students end up in all the same classes together, and Lynn was in my group (I forgot the name for this group at St. John’s…). Given that this group would put us into contact for over 20 hours each week, I really didn’t see Lynn that often. When he was in class, he clearly had carefully read the book we were discussing as well as every book that he had missed. He always seemed a few steps ahead of most of the students (certainly me), even when he hadn’t attended. I’m not sure where he was when he wasn’t in class because at the time I didn’t know him very well. It was probably a combination of hung-over, hiking/camping, building things, or reading things that were more interesting to him.
We got to know each other more towards the end of the year, and we were united by the common bond that neither of us was returning the following year. Lynn was “trespassed” from campus, and I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. When school ended, Lynn was returning home to St. Louis and I was going to visit friends in Minnesota. So we did the logical thing: with virtually no planning or preparation, we got on our bicycles to ride to our respective destinations from Santa Fe. That was the real start of our friendship.