Small Demon
Aug 232009
 

I had never heard of Adrien DeWind until I read his obituary in the NY Times this morning. (The older I get, the more I am drawn to the obits, with fear of personal extinction prompting me to recall the motto Samuel Johnson is said to have written on his watch dial: Work for the night is coming.) DeWind lived a long time and accomplished a great deal. I especially admire him as one of the founders of Human Rights Watch. Whatever one believes about rights — whether they are universal standards or arise only within specific social and cultural contexts — it seems indubitable that working to protect other people’s basic humanity is an admirable thing to do. What I find most moving about an obituary of this sort is that it marks the only kind of immortality I can believe in, that what one does in one’s life continues to ripple outward even after one is dead. For good or ill. In the memories of others, in the institutions one creates or shapes, in the written record one leaves behind. It’s little enough, of course, but it’s something, not nothing. Our lives are much longer than we imagine.

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