I was recently corresponding with a professor of mine about Wittgenstein, planning to set up a meeting to have a chat and catch up. Oh, and talk about Wittgenstein, as I found another place where philosophy is relevant to programming. In my last email to him, I happened to ask after one of his colleagues, who was my advisor, mentor, and one of the most influential people in my life.

Then I remembered Google, and the first result was an obituary.

I was devastated. Indescribably so. Biblicallly devastated; I literally rent my garments in grief. I really liked that shirt, too.

This is Dr. Fuchs:

Walter Fuchs

Dr. Fuchs helped lay the groundwork for my life in more ways than he probably ever knew, and I am eternally grateful for the privilege of knowing him. In the same conversation, I think he convinced me that I would make an excellent professor of philosophy and proceeded to convince me not to pursue that path.

He was such an odd bird. He was never seen without a black leather vest, and practiced Tae Kwon Do in the hallway between classes.

One interesting thing, from this weekend while I was in the darkest part of mourning. I happened to post an aphorism from Nietzsche which (reasonably) concerned my friends and family:

“The thought of suicide is a powerful solace: by means of it one gets through many a bad night”

Friedrich Nietzsche Beyond Good and Evil

I later explained the context, I’ll just repost the comment:

I think I chose that aphorism because Dr. Fuchs helped me to understand it; Nietzsche’s philosophy was about embracing life, and the thought that it could be easily ended, by one’s own hand, should serve to remind us that however bad things were, if one hadn’t done so, one had already chosen to plough through and endure.

What else can I say about the man…

Unlike some professors, he would never use his own (expensive, thanks to academic publishers) texts to teach his classes. His own essay (based on his Ph.D. thesis) Phenomenology and The Metaphysics of Presence would never be required (or even suggested) for his courses, although that book is how I really came to understand Husserl and the thread connecting him to Derrida.

It was kind of a blow and kind of a breath of fresh air that after all the classes where I had to buy the professor’s shite book, the one book that was really helpful wasn’t on the reading list on ethical grounds.

I think much of my sorrow comes from the fact that I did such a shite job of staying in touch over the years. It’s been over a decade since we spoke. I have a lot of regret to get over due to this.

I had a fucked up weekend, drinking and crying and listening to The Smiths.

Someone asked me, “would he want you to mourn like this?”

And it reminded me of a conversation we had.

I expressed some reservations one time over Sartre’s adopted daughter publishing Truth and Existence after his death and against his wishes.

And Dr. Fuchs pointed out that Sartre would likely have considered it ungenerous to have designs beyond one’s own death. Certainly Heidegger, asserting the finality of death as the sine qua non for a meaningful existence, would not attempt to subvert that finality.

Death is good. Death is what makes us mortal, makes us human, gives us meaning. Without death, life would have no size.

And we know this, yet we sigh, and weep, and allow our sorrow to drive us.

But human life is finite, and perhaps the Stoics teach us the best lesson: how to die well.

I hope Dr. Fuchs had a good death. I’m certain he had a full and vibrant life.

Let us celebrate his life, and mourn our loss, but not his death, for he has completed his journey. He has achieved that end which ensures the meaning of his life.

Good journey, Dr. Fuchs. I will always love and miss you. Thank you for the light you shone into my life, and may you pass well into whatever lies beyond this fragile existence.