The death of a skeptic

Contributed by
May 4, 2011
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I received an email last night. It was from Slau, a musician friend of mine (I met him through George Hrab) who's also a skeptic and all-around good guy. Slau was asking me a favor, a small one, really, but with terrible gravitas: he had a friend, Derek Miller, who was dying of cancer. He only had a few weeks, maybe days, to live. Derek was a fan of mine, Slau told me, and asked if I could tweet about his site, or blog about it. Slau knew Derek would get a kick out of it.

Of course I'd do it, I thought. I went to Derek's site, and immediately got a jolt: I recognized his avatar; he commonly retweeted stuff I posted, or sent me notes. OK, I thought, I'll tweet something -- but by then it was pretty late, so I figured better to wait until morning when more people will see it.

When morning came, I got on my computer and was ready to write something when I got the news from Slau: Derek had died the night before.

Damn, damn, damn.

I didn't know Derek. I wish I had. Reading his posts, he was clearly a man of great courage and a sharp mind. He was a true skeptic, accepting what was happening to him and understanding what his non-belief meant as he slowly succumbed to cancer. He remained steadfast in his convictions right up to the end.

I am saddened by this, and struck by the loss to all of us by Derek's death.

But do yourself this favor: go read his last post. Then read his magnificent article on how he faced his own impending death. Then go and peruse his other work. Through this maybe you'll get to know him better.

Two points: one is that, as trite as it is, seize the moment. As Slau said to me earlier today (quoting Warren Zevon), "Enjoy every sandwich." How much time does any of us have? Not enough, I'd wager. As it happens, even had I written something last night, Derek probably still wouldn't have seen it. It's a fact of life (and death) that sometimes even immediacy isn't enough. But do what you can while and when you can.

And second, I've seen -- and I'm sure many of you have seen -- far too much death these past few years. Friends, family, acquaintances, scientists, some people I knew well and others I had only briefly met. I've found that all we have after we die is our legacy, who we've touched, whose lives we've enriched.

It's too bad I only found out about Derek's writing when it was too late to talk to him about it, but I can show it to you. Let your life be enriched as well.