I found out late this evening that we have lost one of the most prolific and caring authors of the last few generations. Nothing I can say here (or anywhere else) will be as important as anything Kurt Vonnegut wrote, but I feel like I have to try.
And sadly, I know how this will end.
I want to say he was one of the most prolific and caring authors of my generation, but I'm only 26 and he passed away young at 84. Vonnegut was one of the most prolific and caring authors of the last century and now that he's gone, all we have left of him are the novels, short stories and essays that he wrote during his lifetime. In that way, his ideas and ideals have become unstuck in time.
His writings have meant a lot to generations of people and have personally meant the world to me. He taught many of us the ideals that make us who we are, and if he didn't introduce us to those ideals, he certainly reinforced them with some of the most biting, hilarious and apt social commentary the world has ever had privilege to read between the covers of a book.
He taught me about important moments in history that seem long forgotten, about union strikes and old Socialist heroes, about Abraham Lincoln and World War II. He taught me what was great about what Christ had to say better than any priest I'd ever known. With his novels he showed me sides of people that I would never have imagined or conceived. With his short stories he offered me insight into the small moments in life that make things interesting. With his essays he showed me that injustice in the world might go unpunished and the public might forget, but history never will.
He taught me about conservatives. Once, he said of Richard Nixon (and I think it remains true of most hard-line conservatives) that it seemed as though somewhere along the line he was told that the only things regarded as crimes were sexual in nature. That explains a lot. Vonnegut's writing is full of such wisdom and its too bad that we'll never have the gift of his unique insight beyond his currently published works.
What do I think his most important lesson of all was? That it is a good and noble thing to be a good and caring human being, regardless of race, creed, color or political or physical boundary.
His mark on the discourse of American culture and politics is indelible and widespread.
I feel like he's taught these things to a lot of us.
I don't feel like I'm alone.
(If any of you care, I wrote a much more personal eulogy for a man I idolized both ideologically and as an artist here on the "This Divided State" blog.)