Thursday, May 25, 2017

In Memory of PAL

When my grandfather died several years ago, what stood out to me the most from his funeral was the number of other people who had been the co-beneficiaries of his kindness and generosity. My grandfather made me feel like the only person in the world, so lavish was his steady affection, but really people he encountered in all the other areas of his life--Boy Scouts, choir, the funeral home where he worked in his retirement, and his church--were similarly cared for. I guess it's not shocking: If someone is good, that goodness will show up everywhere, but it shocked me. 

When I found out about the great PAL's death on Tuesday, I had the same realization. I feel his loss acutely, but so do hundreds of others whom PAL treated with the same generous respect. Reading remembrances on his facebook wall reveals students, colleagues, and friends who all say the same things. I'll say them, too. 

I met PAL when I was an undergraduate at a summer program. We were at Oriel College. The thing I remember most from that week is PAL talking to me about my evangelical upbringing with fascination and respect, as if I had something to teach him about the world. He also mentioned wryly that I'd need a new religious tradition for my time in graduate school, and that Catholicism would be best. And so he set me on the path to my conversion. He instructed me later, ever the pragmatist, Don't be a zealot about it. 

Between graduate programs I gave a paper at a conference and he happened to be on the same panel. It was the first paper I ever gave. Afterward, he took me out for a drink, gave me comments on my presentation, and just talked. PAL never had anything to gain from me, but looked out for me throughout graduate school--inviting me to dinners, events, just to catch up, introducing me to many of his friends. He was a reader on my dissertation. The last time we spoke was this spring to talk about which academic position I should take. He was the best person to get advice from and with whom to work out a tricky situation. He was a constant supporter.

Once I ran into him in advance of a dinner or event that we were both attending. I saw him go into a store and so I followed him in. It turned out that when he packed for the trip, he grabbed two maroon shoes that almost, but didn't quite, match, and so had to pick up a third pair of these virtually identical maroon shoes. I thought this the height of silliness and didn't shy away from telling him that. Ever self-deprecating and sheepish, of course he didn't mind.

Which brings me to his sense of humor, which isn't even remotely like any other I've encountered (I suspect it is similar to that of WCM, who I never met). He mumbled his jokes, under his breath, so you have to be listening carefully to even hear them. They're always sarcastic, extreme, and just sort of ridiculous, and he follows them up with an "uhhhhh." He's the funniest political theorist I've ever met. 

I haven't even gotten to his insights, which I always found sane and refreshingly fleeing any whiff of ideology. PAL was conservative and was suspicious of "conservative" theories that weren't grounded in practice. Yeah, yeah, yeah, Walmart isn't great, he would say, but there are plenty of big Catholic families that couldn't live without it. And of course, the infamous, oft-quoted solution he had to our demographic crisis: Get married and have babies--really take it seriously and stick with it; and start smoking--and really stick with that, too. 

PAL was a Catholic political theorist, bringing the insights of Augustine and Tocqueville, Walker Percy and Flannery O'Connor, and Friday Night Lights and Mad Men, to bear on contemporary problems. He emphasized our relational nature and our alienation in the world. There's really no one who so eclectically and agilely interprets anything from GIRLS to transhumanism from the Christian perspective. His unique voice will be greatly missed. And of course, his use of capitalization. 

His death is a great loss to me and to countless others and to our world. And his seemingly boundless impact makes me aspire to treat my students with the same generous respect, patience, and attention with which he treated everyone he encountered. May he support us as much from heaven as he did on earth. 


Julia said...

Very sad news. I saw him present a paper a couple years ago and he was both brilliant and hilarious. This is a lovely tribute.

Emily Hale said...

He was quite a man!

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes, this is a very nice tribute. I always wondered about his capitalization. I mainly knew him through his prolific FB feed, which pointed me to a lot of good articles and never included the 2000-word bloviations so ubiquitous to the medium. He also persuaded me that I needed to try Waffle House.

Emily Hale said...

Yes--how are we going to understand the contemporary world without his (brief) reaction to every article?!

He sat by you at a dinner once I think--cause he asked me about you afterward.

Miss Self-Important said...

Yes, I remember that dinner! (What did he ask?) But it was the only time I met him in person, so I don't have much of a sense of his personality. He did make a pretty good joke about my advisor though.

Hopkins said...

Love this. So glad we got to reminisce about him together.

Emily Hale said...

Me too!