I didn't feel like mourning when Evan Payson told me Don had died. As Don said to me: ”the beginning and end of life is a disaster; it's the middle that counts if anything does.”
Don lived a long life over eight decades exactly as he had wanted to live it. His body had been giving out on him for several years though initially it was nothing lethal. His eyes didn't work; he couldn’t walk up stairs and was barely functioning physically, partially because he never went to doctors. Don always was ready to take in what Nature had to offer him.
“My father taught me two things: how to set type and how to drive,” Don told me. He was one of the last products of the old blue collar working class world in which every child was directed by their parents to have some trade that could bring them into the adult world with competitive skills that would keep them from starving to death.
It wasn't a world that cherished life unless it had some clear talent for survival. Don suffered less than most people I’ve known who have had their innings with our contemporary institutions with their claims to value life because Don never paid much attention to them.
Many people listening to Don talk in his thick New York accent weren't aware of how smart he was. What he said was often brilliant and epigrammatic. One should be able to see that level of intelligence and lapidary craft very well in his verse. If one were looking for classical models for his achievement, hardly one of Donald concerns, one might think of Martial or Horace. Don had the clarity and unsentimental quality of those late republican Romans.
Many people of discernment accepted Don as a great man. He was all of that.
One of Don's legacies if one wants such two-headed benefices is the chance to observe in somebody we call great what at least some of the qualities of greatness might be. People do recognize greatness by intuition. They might not like it, they might b threatened by it, but they can sniff it somehow.
Most people are politic, secretive. They think it is a central virtue in world they don't like or trust to offer as little as possible, nothing , or a domino disguise of who they are. They want to get in and out of life with the fewest wounds they can.
Don, and for that matter his mate Enid, were transparent. Neither one of them may ever have told a lie or put an acceptable spin on anything in their lives. People who don't appreciate greatness but have a certain dread of the world for good reason call this behavior childish. It's really character, honor, respect for the spirit of others as well. If Don accommodated the world at all it was only that he was clever and entertaining. He never bored anybody with the truth
If the world were what mediocrities think it is neither Don nor Enid would have accomplished anything of value, influenced or nurtured anybody . Would these supposedly more worldly people like to live in a world where nobody for the best of reasons were ciphers who never accomplished anything?
As a corollary one might see that great people think well enough of the world to offer themselves within it others t as citizens of Nature. People who are not great see their environment as deeply if sometimes elusively and clandestinely hostile. Don presumptively liked people, liked life, liked to be alive. He didn't go through any satanic reflections about it like Descartes or Carlyle. He was was at home in Nature.
Certainly thee enemy of any greatness is any organization that for its own purposes understandably would be happier if nobody were other than mediocre and circumspect even to a fault. It might be that we are all nascently great but that most of us out of caution or dread deny our greatness. One could never say that about Don. He never praised himself; he was if anything severely over-modest. Yet people reconciled in him something that wasn’t a principle he lived up to or anything external to him at all but his singular character pure and simple. Not telling lies can produce a lot of silence. Both Don and Enid weren't whiners.
Of course Don was a brilliant, independent and verbally clever man who had something we can all observe to apply himself to when he put his inner qualities to use.
Yet transparency, honesty and directness are not qualities that are virtues only of poets. they are the champions of an ontological fearlessness all life is born with, which at best enriches us all, an honor one pays to oneself which we all would do well to extend beyond our birth, even like Don to our death. They can help us to be charitable, intimate and convivial.
That is Don's deepest legacy.