In the world of the intertubes the word “friend” has taken on a whole new meaning. A friend can be someone you’ve never met, never even talked to except through the medium of the web, or never communicated with in any way except reading what they wrote every day, over time coming to feel as attached to them as to the people whose hands you held when they were sick or whose jokes made you groan over a beer at your local pub.
Is it as real? I don’t know but it sure seems that way. I never met Rev Andrew Weaver in person. We talked on the phone a couple of times and emailed each other regularly but I didn’t even know what he looked like. Yet when I called up Talk to Action the other day and discovered that he died over the weekend, I was as bereft as if I had lost the kind of friend who might have introduced me to my first Little Feat record or talked me out of getting serious about that girl who stole every penny from her last boyfriend and then burned down his house.
Andrew would have done either, maybe both, had the need arisen. Fortunately it didn’t. But we did have long talks about Bush, his library, and the nature of god, the universe and everything. I found it odd having the same kind of conversations with Andrew (I never called him Andy; one, well, wouldn’t – he wasn’t the “Andy” type, not to me) in our respective middle age that I used to have in my 20’s, those deep, theological and philosophical discussions about life and love that you never seem to have once the pressures of daily survival grip you with their claws.
Those things still mattered to Andrew, though. He displayed a passion for Large Questions that was somewhat surprising in its width and breadth for a man his age. We were both too old to be as didactic in our opinions as when we were younger and Andrew certainly had a leavening humor that helped keep my sometimes dour cynicism in check but there was no mistaking the deep conviction behind the calm demeanor and the sly jokes he used to maintain his passion for justice and humanity without diving into hatred or despair.
Indeed, “despair” is the last word I would ever have thought to use about Andrew, no matter what horrible thing we talked about, and we talked about many horrible things – torture, war, prisons, and, of course, central to them all, the most horrible of all.
George W Bush.
I first “met” Rev Weaver when he commented on a post I’d written condemning the Bush Library proposed for the Southern Methodist University campus and reporting on the controversy that had sprung up in Methodist circles over having a defender of torture honored on the campus of a university dedicated to Methodist values, which – as Andrew pointed out again and again – decidedly did not include the Bushian advocacy of waterboarding and other “harsh interrogation” techniques. A week or so after I wrote it I discovered a loooong comment appended to it that consisted of a letter written by the Methodist bishops against siting the Library at SMU, an impassioned plea to sign an online petition against the Library, and an assortment of comments generated by the petition.
I’d never had a comment quite like it before, nor have I since. It was the beginning of an alliance over fighting the Library/Propaganda Center that went on fairly regularly for the next year-and-a-half. Once Andrew had sensed a compatriot in the fight against something he believed was disastrously antithetical to the Methodist principles he believed in, he never let go. I found message after message in my inbox telling me of new developments in the situation or the latest attempts by the opposition to throw a monkey wrench into the works. He was, to put it mildly, relentless. As Mr Clarkson wrote:
He worked tirelessly for peace and social justice and sought to make a difference in the world. I know that he did – from his support for Cindy Sheehan during her vigil in Crawford, Texas where she hoped President Bush would explain her son’s death in Iraq; to his efforts to thwart the placement of the Bush Presidential library and the related Bush “think tank” at Southern Methodist University — and much, much more.
Once he had declared himself a fan of my writing, of course, I was his for life. Anybody who thinks I have talent gets my immediate attention and, naturally, respect.
But he wasn’t flattering me. Andrew flattered no one, I think. If he believed something positive about someone, he said it as simply as possible. If he picked up something negative, he found a way to approach it without lying or even evading but that managed to get across what he meant in a way least likely to cause hurt and most likely to cause re-thinking on the part of the (ever so gently) criticized. When I tell you that he refused to give up on even Bush’s potential for eventual salvation, you will understand how far his commitment to humane treatment for everyone regardless of what they did had gone.
When I tell you that I spoke to him last just a couple of months ago and that he never mentioned his illness, then or in any of our email exchanges, an illness he had apparently had for quite some time, it will give you a small measure of the man. He was much more concerned to discover that I was on the road than he was about his own approaching death. He seemed more tired than I remembered him being and I remarked on it, but he brushed it aside saying only that he wasn’t feeling well and he needed to get some sleep. I thought he had a flu.
He will be missed, by those who knew and loved him but also by those of us only touched briefly and with the lightest of brushes by his serenity and compassion.
Which doesn’t mean I’m not pissed at him. He didn’t think to tell me how sick he was and I never got a chance to tell him what I thought of him and how much he meant to me. But then, Andrew never did take compliments very well.