As one might expect, the medical nightmare I have been living through for the past six weeks has prompted in me some funereal thoughts about what meaning, if any, my life has had. A Miami University law professor referred to me several days ago as a "grand old man," which gave me pause. I have spent most of my life thinking of myself as a rambunctious young whippersnapper. I fear that ship has sailed.
The deepest meaning of my life is to be found in my sons, Patrick and Tobias, and Patrick's son and daughter, Samuel [six] and Athena [three and a half]. As my father lay dying in a New York hospital, I said to him, "You have been a better father to me than your father was to you. No man can be asked to do more. I will try to be a better father to my sons than you were to me. I love you." I hope Patrick and Tobias can say the same to me when my time comes.
My life has been given unity and shape by my love for Susie, and her love for me. She saved me by agreeing to rejoin me in mid-life. I hope we will have many more years to enjoy the delights of Paris.
And then there are all those books. Good lord, what a great fuss I have made over them as each one has dropped from my sleeve onto the page. Most have already been forgotten, and the rest soon will be, with perhaps one exception. In 1964, as I was about to begin a full-scale crushingly expensive psychoanalysis [$25 an hour, but then, my salary as a senior Columbia professor was only $11,000 a year], Arthur Danto offered me a $500 advance to write an eighty page essay on Political Philosophy for an ill-conceived Harper & Row publishing venture. Twelve months later, I wrote the essay between summer school classes at Columbia, and five years later still it finally appeared as a slender volume, with a title stolen from Mark Twain's lovely literary essay, "In Defense of Harriet Shelly."
In Defense of Anarchism has taken on a life of its own, and will, I imagine, outlive me. It is pleasant to imagine that some graduate student, decades or even generations from now, will become curious about whether the author of that tract ever wrote anything else, and will find his or her way to one of the books of which I am fonder.
But despite all that scribbling, I have never thought of myself as a writer. Rather, if asked what I "do," I would unhesitatingly say "I am a teacher." I remember so many of the thousands of young men and women who passed through my classes during my fifty-three year career as a university teacher. Indeed, I can recall them more clearly than some of the books I have written! The great radical poet, novelist, philosopher, social critic, educational theorist, and city planner Paul Goodman wrote movingly and insightfully about the erotic component of true teaching, and I believe that he was right. I have loved my students like surrogate children, even when they have not reciprocated the affection. I always revealed a good deal about myself in my classes, and was repeatedly puzzled, but not dissuaded, by student evaluations that said "talks too much about his family."
Genesis 3:19 has it about right: "for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." It is enough if I live for a brief moment in the memories of my sons and my grandchildren and my students.