Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A quarter of a century ago Ayn Rand died.

It was 25 years ago that novelist Ayn Rand died. Here are some memories of that event.

I remember well the day the newspapers announced that Rand had died in her apartment in New York City.

I sensed that I had lost someone important, someone who had rescued me when I desperately needed rescuing.

I had lost a mentor even a friend, yet I had lost someone I had never meet and never knew — but I did know her, I had meet here in the pages of Atlas Shrugged, I found her spirit in the song that was Anthem, I learned something of her life in the greyness of We the Living.

The next day I walked through the one cathedral which Ayn would appreciate — the towering skyscrapers of Manhattan. I walked to the Frank E. Campbell Funeral Home.

I was one of the first to arrive that day. I was second in line. There was one man in front of me and we started talking.

The line behind us grew longer as we waited. Small groups of people would chat with each other keeping their voices respectfully low.

But these people were celebrating. Each had a story of how their lives had changed because of the words they read in Rand’s novels.

The doors finally opened and the crowd poured into the small viewing room. The room was awash with the colors of floral arrangements.

Every spot was filled with tributes to Rand and her influence. The casket was in front, and to the left.

For the first time I saw Ayn in person.

I went and stood by the casket. I didn’t pray but I whispered: “Thank you.”

The room filled quickly with people. There was little room to move about. No one wanted to leave. Small groups of people formed and talked. People wandered from one group to another.

I walked from bouquet to bouquet and read the notes that were attached. One card touched me unlike the others. It was from a group of college students who wrote: “Our sorrow in your passing is only surpassed by our joy in your living.”

This is what I needed.

This room packed with people sharing with one another the impact that this Russian woman had on their lives — they were celebrating her life. This is what seemed proper.

I especially remember how that room filled with mourners was alive with music and flowers
and with the voice of reason spoken by many different people from many different places.

Each lived a unique life. Each came from a different background and had a different story.
But for each there was one common denominator. For each there was Ayn Rand — and the words, those incredible words, that she wrote. She brought us into her universe through those words. And that evening we had the chance to come and say good bye and thank you.

In The Fountainhead there is a scene where Howard Roark is standing outside a resort he built. A boy on a bicycle comes by and is awe struck by the resort. At first he doesn’t see Roark but when he does he goes to him:

“That isn’t real, is it?” the boy asked, pointing down.

“Why, yes, it is, now,” the man answered.

“It’s not a movie set or a trick of some kind?”

“No. It’s a summer resort. It’s just been completed. It will be opened in a few weeks.”

“Who built it?”

“I did.”

“What’s your name?”

“Howard Roark.”

“Thank you,” said the boy.

He knew that the steady eyes looking at him understood everything these two words had to cover. Howard Roark inclined his head, in acknowledgement.

Wheeling his bicycle by his side, the boy took the narrow path down the slope of the hill to the valley and the houses below, Roark looked after him. He had never seen that boy before and he would never see him again.

He did not know that he had given someone the courage to face a lifetime.”

Since that day in New York, on more than one occasion, I have remembered what Ayn Rand did for me.

And still, often in moments of solitary reflection, I repeat those words. I whisper them to someone who is no longer with us because I must. I simply whisper: “Thank you.”

She never knew that she had given me the courage to face a lifetime.