Mark Van Doren was a good man who fathered a disgraced son. In the lesson of the Van Dorens, we come to understand that goodness in a man is unequal and earned and not given and it is certainly not passed along by birthright. When our friend, Alan Champion, died on Friday, those who knew him knew he was a good man, and the article I wrote about him in January of this year — “Alan Champion is Not Dead!” — proves beyond assumption and wondering that Alan was known, even tangentially, to be a good man; and we have empirical proof of such as seen below in the readership chart for the Memeingful blog in which my updated article about Alan appeared. Alan died at 10:00am on the 22nd. The 23rd is a Saturday.
Those massive spikes in our usual readership trends mean one thing: Alan Champion was a good man and people from around the world were interested in reading about his life and untimely death at age 55 from appendix cancer.
Here’s more empirical proof of Alan’s goodness. These are the top search terms that led people to my article about him:
alan champion, alan champion interpreter, alan champion cancer, alan champion interpreter death, alan champion death
Quantifying the goodness of a human life in bar charts and search terms may seem odd at first, but in a way, it is also comforting knowing that raw numbers don’t lie and the magnitude of interest in Alan is verifiable and provable.
When Howard Stein was a young undergraduate student at Columbia University in the City of New York, Mark Van Doren was one of his professors. When Howard’s father died, he was lost and distraught and he went to his famous teacher to share his grief and said, “We lost a good man! My father was a good man, Mr. Van Doren!”
Van Doren’s kind and compassionate response was simple and factually to the point: “Howard, there are not enough of them.”
Today, as we dry our eyes from weeping for Alan Champion, we can confirm in the absolute what Mark Van Doren said over 70 years ago: There are not enough good men in the world, and when one of them dies, we are all left a little less assured and we are all made slightly more scared to face the future without them on our side.
So sorry to learn of your friend’s death, David. This is certainly an interesting discussion and wouldn’t we have all liked to have had Mark Van Doren teaching us and privately helping us through our grieving? Long live higher education!
It’s fascinating how old conversations can bring comfort to new sadnesses. That’s the structure of human learning and compassion.
He certainly was a good man, David — and the world is a sadder place without him.
Reality is starting to settle, and it’s a tough notion to abide that he’s done and gone.