An episode from 10/11/22: Tonight I talk about a dear friend from my youth, who made a great impact on me from my late teens and into my early twenties. I met him when he was probably in his early fifties, although he looked much, much older. By that time he had already lived quite a life.
He was one of the first people I knew to unabashedly tout the transformative power of both literature and religion: always with a New York Times under his arm, he introduced me to Seamus Heaney’s poetry as well as Huston Smith’s World Religions, and he was equally at home quoting a Hindu text, as he was rattling off some Robert Frost.
My friend (who I don’t name in this episode) was also the first openly gay person I ever knew, and I will never forget how nervous and prepared for rejection that he was (this being late 1996), when he came out to me. We ended up becoming very close, each trading stories on our various relationship woes, and in time I would drive him to see his mother at a retirement home, up until the day that she died.
As I say in the episode, a good way to describe my friend can be seen in his relationship to two novels by Hermann Hesse. Probably during our first conversation, he showed me a notebook where he had copied out a long passage from the end of Hesse’s Demian, which is largely the story of youthful illumination. The other writers that I knew, however, were much more interested in Hesse’s novel of middle-aged rejuvenation, Steppenwolf; my friend, however, simply said that he didn’t need to read Steppenwolf, since he had already lived it.
The music that begins the episode is Simon and Garfunkel’s “Bookends Theme.”