What profit is there from my death?

The professor, scholar, literary historian, husband and father D.G. Myers died yesterday, after a long bout with prostate cancer. Last March, we recorded what may be my favorite episode of the podcast. You can listen to it here:

I just wrote this for a tribute festschrift being collected by Patrick Kurp. My condolences to his wife and family and everyone else whose life he touched.

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dgmyersI’d enjoyed D.G. Myers’ writing on books, culture and religion for years, and when I learned that he was suffering from terminal cancer, I sheepishly asked him if he’d be interested in recording a conversation with me for my podcast. I was surprised when he assented, thinking, “If I knew I only had a year or so to live, the last thing thing I’d want to do is waste a few hours talking to someone like me.”

I flew to Columbus, OH last March and we sat down in his home on a Sunday afternoon to record what turned out to be one of the best conversations I’ve ever had (on- or off-mic). We recorded for 90 minutes, then kept going for the next two hours, before his fatigue overcame him. He quickly allayed my worries about taking up his precious time; having a good conversation was more valuable to him than brooding over his health.

I didn’t know what to expect when I walked in the door, but I certainly wasn’t prepared for David’s hospitality, his gregariousness, the vivacity that he mustered in the midst of his suffering. That afternoon, we joyously talked books, religion, work, family, his childhood, criticism, creative writing, and more, all within the shadow of his dying. He told me his biggest regret was never getting to visit Israel. His literary bucket list included Anna Karenina.

As is my practice, I snapped a picture of him sitting at the table during the podcast. He’s weathered and gaunt, his shoulders slanted. A gray fedora covers the head rendered bald by chemotherapy. A copy of his book, The Elephants Teach, is on the table in front of him. In the background, on the wall, is a collection of photos of his family. He was so taken by that picture that he made it his Twitter avatar. I can’t reconcile the man in that photo with earlier ones I’ve seen of him, but that’s who he is to me.

During our talk, he said, “Every Shabbos I thank Hashem for my cancer, because it has focused me on what’s good and enabled me to ignore what’s not.”

I haven’t looked at life the same way since we spoke. I’ll treasure that afternoon for the rest of my days.

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