I just received an e-mail from my dear friend Craig Lucas. Craig reports that Harry Weider died on April 29. Harry was struck and killed by a New York taxi. Like all of Harry’s friends I am devastated. While blogs and news stories are quick to say that Harry was “gay, Jewish, a dwarf, an activist” etc., in my world view Harry was simply another universal citizen. Rob Eshman’s blog post is the best summary of Harry’s wild, unflappable, edgy, righteous, funny and loving intelligence. See also deeply loving tributes to Harry at Michael Petrelis’ blog and at Haaretz.com.
I had just gotten to know Harry by way of e-mail. Craig Lucas had introduced us. In recent weeks I’d been thinking of ways to bring Harry to the University of Iowa to talk about anything he desired. You see, in the world of universal human citizenship the life of the mind is like the discord in Stravinsky’s Concerto in D Major–suddenly one hears an old Russian chorale, the universal voices of long sufferings–voices still daring–still risking communities of love and acceptance.
Harry, I hardly knew Ye; yet I did. And I am the luckier for it. Yes we live on this blue planet like fragments of broken glass. Then the poet comes to town. Says, ex nihilo “didn’t you know all despairs are reversible?”
My own greatest fear is that I will be struck by a taxicab in New York. Nowadays, what with some restored vision in my left eye and the possibility that I will have the same good luck with the other, what with all this, I fear giving up my guide dog–my vision is just above legal blindness when I’m in the doctor’s office, but probably just below it when I’m on the street.
And well meaning people come up to me and say: “So when the dog retires can I have her?” They really do mean well.
Yet here’s the thing: Harry demonstrated over and over that disability is complex, protean, that it changes multiple times during the course of a single day. That living with disabilities contains multiple social, intellectual, political, and physical risks. Harry also demonstrated daily that you can’t judge a person by appearances. Of course.
In our post-modern, post-industrial, digital age we assume that the body is a text. Harry taught us that you have to look “up” from a text every once in awhile.
Some days I feel like an elderly gentleman in a remote house far out by the sea. None of the locals understands me.
I think Harry knew how that felt. It’s okay to feel a little melancholic in this polysemous and often frightening village.
It is also right to shake your fist at the bank palaces and staircases, at the bureaucratic rhetorics of hesitation.
Harry, I hardly knew Ye. But I knew Ye. You are in my song.