“Sorry but I am dealing with some health issues that require I conserve my efforts. I do admire your work intensely and hope to help along to the extent of my ability
Best Christmas to you and God Bless.”
When I read those words from American Digest publisher Gerard Van der Leun on Christmas, I did not realize they would be the last ones he would write to me.
“Van der Leun of AmericanDigest.org – the bloggers’ blog – died yesterday from TurboCancer. He posted a month ago today, in fact through December 30th, in normality. He died yesterday of TurboCancer. He said publicly that he got the two first clot shots. I’ll leave it at that. But remember, one month ago today Gerard Van der Leun was doodling and toodling along like everything was fine, and today he is dead from cancer so aggressive that it took him from diagnosis to slab in DAYS. That’s what happens when you have no functioning immune system. For… whatever reason.”
One of my commenters alerted me to the gutting news on January 30. I sobbed as I read through the progression of posts documenting his hospitalization for COVID and back pain, his premature return home jotted down in his last post, the glimmer of hope that accompanied his transfer to rehab and negative COVID test, the rounds of testing—all concluding with the shattering diagnosis:
“This is the news no one wants to hear. It is my sad task to tell you that Gerard has cancer that has metastasized, and that treatment offers very little or nothing at this point. He has entered hospice care, his younger brother is with him, and other loved ones have gathered or are gathering to visit, as well as church members and pastor.”
I then revisited our correspondence, treasuring each poetic word—including the literal poem he wrote for me during his attempt to republish my Letter to the Menticided: A 12-Step Recovery Program (which he said reminded him of his New York Times Anonymous: The 12 Steps):
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Substack code deceiving, ?
Code learning to write hells of spam, you
With seething cranium to care for, can you?
Ah! ás the brain grows older
It will shrink to insights colder
By and by, nor spare a “Why?”
While wading pools of Libdrool lies;
And yet you cringe and say “Why, why?”.
Now no matter, child, white shame:
Genetics’ spríngs sprout the same.
Nor clown had, no nor moron, expressed
What truth was heard clear, Holy Ghost guessed:
It ís the blight Libs was born for,
It is Progtards you mourn for.
In my reply to this gift, I asked:
“How did you know I was a Gerard Manley Hopkins fan? I included ‘Pied Beauty’ in my thank-you post to my readers last year.
“Are you named for him?”
He told me he was “named for my uncle who died in WWII.” I did not learn until later the layers of grief behind those words. But I will let Gerard tell that story.
His readers never saw my letter because, “Alas as I published this with the HTML something deep in the code replaced the font on my entire site”—an implosion he took in equanimous stride.
Not long after, he wrote these kind words to introduce my Corona Investigative Committee presentation notes:
“The savage and brilliant Margaret Anna Alice is asking why a lot in A Mostly Peaceful Depopulation. Here are some questions she poses concerning… TOTALITARIANISM”
When I thanked him for this surprise, he replied:
“I wish I could do more and shall. I do think you are admirable in your intensely researched essays. As well as being a formidable essayist.”
Gerard was one of the few publishers to pick up my third essay, Dr. Mengelfauci: Pinocchio, Puppeteer, or Both?, which followed on the heels of his publication of Letter to a Colluder, prefaced with “VERY IMPORTANT.”
When he wrote to let me know he had gifted me a complimentary subscription to his New American Digest (now defunct, sadly), he included this adapted literary reference some of you may recognize from The Waste Land—a line Eliot had leased from Baudelaire’s preface to Fleurs du Mal:
“Bon voyage mon semblable,-mon sœur.”
This spoke to our shared love of poetry. I once wrote him:
“I appreciated your Thom Gunn poem a while back as it reminded me of Oliver Sacks, one of my favorite and most-missed human beings and a dear friend of Thom’s. He discusses their friendship in his autobiography, On the Move.”
He informed me that Gunn was his teacher at Berkeley and gave me a peek at the memoir he wrote after Thom’s death, noting, “I’ve back posted it amidst the detritus of October and it should now be readable under this link.”
“That portrait was poetry and brought tears to my eyes. It is a privilege to have met him through the words of two keen observers and fiery souls who loved him. I don’t think I knew that Oliver’s On the Move title came from a Thom Gunn poem, or if I did, I’d forgotten.… Thank you for sharing that ode to your beloved mentor.”
Since Gerard had surreptitiously published this memoir for me, it’s possible no one else has ever read it. It is my privilege to share it below sandwiched between the two pieces he asked Neo to publish upon his departure.
Originally posted on Memorial Day 2003, The Name in the Stone honors Gerard’s namesake, whose burial in the Atlantic at the age of twenty-two carved an indelible grief into his family tree.