I miss my lifelong friend Dan and am so thankful for the gorgeous photograph on this memory page, which captures the essence of this beautiful man: outdoors in nature; solitary; in touch with his inner being; on a mountaintop; surrounded by wild flowers.
My first memories of Dan go back to 1957 when Dan became a “younger brother,” when he moved to the home for missionary children in Wheaton, Illinois. This followed the death of his mother and the return of his father to Asia. Being only 2 years older than Dan, we (the other early teens at “The Home,”) didn’t know what to make of this heartbroken, quiet, thoughtful boy, but we soon came to know and love his quiet, caring personality, intellectual brilliance, desire for athletic success, and exceptional work ethic.
Dan wrote his first novel around the age of 14 or 15 and I can recall our asking him to read from his handwritten manuscript. This was often done after “lights out,” when we were supposedly sleeping. I do recall slightly risqué passages, which served to titillate our adolescent fantasies. We hadn’t realized that Dan’s mother was and continues to be, 60 years after her death, among the most published missionary authors of all time. Nor could we have known that Dan would go on for a brilliant undergraduate career at Wheaton College and doctoral work at the prestigious University of Chicago in literature and philosophy. Finally, in his final year of life (2022), Dan gave me a copy of his collected work of poetry, some of the most beautiful, although at times dense, poetry my untrained mind had ever read. It was filled with metaphors, allegories, historical markers and words which despite my own graduate work, were “above my pay grade.”
As a gang of some 15+ teenagers living together, we had constant board games, contests and athletic events underway. My own memories are of us playing tackle football without pads, on our playground and shooting endless baskets on the small blacktop court. For some reason, Dan and fellow MK John Jeffrey took up pole vaulting with a handcrafted pole and a hand-dug pit, filled with sand. Both went on to do admirably well in high school and college in the pole vault, and I’ve often wondered what they might have done in an age of fiberglass poles.
Some of us fashioned ourselves as singers, and I can vividly recall Dan and I sitting in the balcony trying to out-sing the whole congregation of College Church. We both took the fire and brimstone sermons of the various pastors to heart, but for neither of us did the commitment last through lifetimes of intellectual challenge or the inevitable suffering of human existence.
One of the greatest “sins” that we could possibly commit according to the dictates of our religious upbringing was to dance; which could lead to lust or even pregnancy. Thus it was to my great delight to be invited by Dan to learn country-Western dancing at a bar in Laramie. It was also a major surprise when Dan and I reconnected after many years, to find out the story of Dan and Sarah meeting on the dance floor, and then their life together and Sarah’s career in ballroom dance competitions. Who would have guessed it?
For a pacifist to serve two tours of duty in Vietnam, Dan was an enigma to some who knew him. It was only on receiving beautifully crafted letters of condolence on deaths in my family members, that I understood why Dan was asked by his Commanding Officer to write letters to the parents of slain soldiers. They were, without question, the most thoughtful, caring condolences I’ve ever read.
I’m sure there are countless reasons Dan might have given for his time spent as a postman in Laramie, Wyoming, but I’ve often thought that perhaps Vietnam seared itself onto his brain, so that he understood at a deep level that work was meant to free one to enjoy the natural world; have time to write beautiful poetry; smell the flowers; know the love of a beautiful woman; and reach out to others despite one’s inherent shyness.