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Festina Lente

It would be unethical not to acknowledge my debt on this day to one of the most influential people of the 20th century who died today. His writings explored deep ideas that were changing the world he lived in and would lead to a post-human future that nobody could desire with integrity (though they might well enjoy it plenty). He was an educator some of whose students are also remembered for their writings.

Today in the rush of events, I tip my hat to Aldous Huxley, author of Brave New World and teacher of George Orwell, who died 50 years ago.

I should also probably mention a writer whose works have caused me to check my soul to see if I have a chest and whose public presentations, many of them transcribed and published since his death on 11/22/63, called all of us to a life of nobility and sacrifice.

Today I pause, if only too briefly, to remember the “author” of that stimulating challenge to manliness, Profiles in Courage, and the one who couldn’t pronounce “Ich”: John F. Kennedy.

Finally, a rather obscure Englishman, nowhere near the stature of Huxley or Kennedy, passed away on this same day in 1963. He rightly anticipated that nobody would remember him ten years after his death, but I am hear to call a neglectful world to a moment, at least, of quiet remembrance for a man who feared fame but wanted to serve, who didn’t like the company of kids but wrote books that adults can’t forget reading when they were little, who wasn’t particularly cherished by the students he tutored but has provided counsel and materials to teachers over the whole world, who was incompetent at math but wrote some of the best apologetic works of the 20th century, and who used metaphors pretty well. Perhaps you have heard of him or maybe you even have one of his books (no doubt an ancient edition from the 40’s or 50’s, handed down from father to son or friend to friend).

Anyway, I take this moment to offer a toast to one of my intellectual mentors who died 50 years ago today: Jack.

On his books they always called him C.S., so maybe you’ve heard of him as C.S. Lewis.

I should add one more note here by way of apology. I have been in a hurry all my life and it has cost me dearly, but never more than the day I was born (November 4, 1963, for those of you who haven’t sent me a birthday present yet). You see, I was supposed to be born on November 23, 1963. The idea was that all of the talent and genius of Kennedy, Lewis, and Huxley would then be transferred over to me and I would be the greatest apologist, literary critic, teacher, writer, and politician of the 21st century.

Unfortunately, because I was in a hurry, they had not yet relinguished all of their talents. Because Lewis was the most humble, he was somewhat more willing to let his gifts go, so I got a little more of the orneriness and the ability to irritate students with unrealistic demands, a love of literature without the talent to write it, and a tendency to dislike little (in my case) dogs. Unfortunately, the really great gifts had not yet been prepared for me.

Huxley loved teaching and speculating about the future, and seeing that his future was ending, he released his futuristic speculative drive for me, but the talent didn’t come with the drive. I got some talent for teaching from him, but just think if I’d waited like I was supposed to.

Then there’s Kennedy. He was pretty fussy about his hair, so when they were trying to get his political acumen from him and hand it on to me, it took a rather violent effort to get him to let go. It came to me in disarray. Result: my haste and his stubbornness led to me having a talent only for mucking things up politically. I’m great at thinking in grandiose, meaningless gestures with a subtle totalitarianism hidden in them (ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country and all that), but attention to detail (where’d we put that car top again?) isn’t a strength.

Moral of the story: Remember slowly.

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