Thursday, July 23, 2009

July 23, 2009

In a letter dated shortly before he retired, Werner wrote of turning his attention to what lay ahead.....I have become somewhat preoccupied, perhaps not unnaturally, with the next passage
, retirement and beyond, and I am developing some very definite opinions. What these opinions were or by what path he was arriving at them, Werner (uncharacteristically) did not, in this letter at least, say. Staying with the vulnerability and uncertainty of the moment, he offered the following reflection instead:

So much of my life-- almost my entire life-- has been wrapped up with Pitzer, and I am not yet sure how I am going to take the change that will come with retirement and death (not so soon I trust). Plenty of projects ahead, but it is all terra incognita and I am not so sure.

What I can say about this moment of change is
that I am happy and at peace; hardly a day passes when I do not experience and express how rare and fragile such a state of being is. It is of course the way life is supposed to be, but it hardly ever is. Instead I experience it as a state of grace that may not last but is still to be cherished.

July 22, 2009

Speaking at the memorial service of her teacher and friend, Karl Jaspers, Hannah Arendt invited those who had come together to take leave of Jaspers to mourn in the recognition that “when he left– as a very old man and after an amazingly happy and blessed life– something vanished from [the world]. As he spoke, no one else is speaking, has spoken, or probably will speak again for some time to come.”

Those of us who learned of the death of Werner Warmbrunn earlier this week might find ourselves wandering in the general vicinity of sentiments Arendt so perfectly captured in her eulogy of Jaspers– with the departure of this remarkably singular man and gifted teacher something has vanished from the world: nobody like this was here before and nobody like this will be here again. About what that something is that we have lost, each who knew Werner might tell a slightly different story; and these stories, taken together, would offer only a partial portrait at best. But it falls to us to tell them and through them honor the life of a man whose love of the word and the world were gifts beyond measure. In Arendt’s words:

"We don’t know what happens when a human being dies. All we know is that he has left us.....What is at once most fleeting and at the same time the greatest thing about him– those things die with him, and they put a demand on us to remember him. That remembering takes place in communication with the dead person, and from that arises talk about him, which then resounds in the world again. Communication with the dead– that has to be learned, and we [can] begin to learn it now in the communion of our mourning.”

[Correspondence 1926-1969, Hannah Arendt and Karl Jaspers. Harcourt (1992): 684-686]