As many of my readers should know, my long-time editor and friend, David Hartwell, died last Wednesday, January 20, 2016. He died from a burst cranial artery either from, during, or incident to a fall down a staircase while lugging an expensive bookcase. The glass in the bookcase was undamaged, which, in a bitterly and ironically strange way, could only have happened to David, the editor of countless books and the passionate and incredibly knowledgeable collector of so many more. I’m still a bit numb from losing someone with whom I shared so much for so long and so regularly, but David’s death brings up the fact, again, that no one gets out of this life alive. Yet so often, we act as if death is something that always happens to other people.
Perhaps that’s an instinctual survival mechanism, a denial of the inevitable, just as perhaps so is the belief in an afterlife or reincarnation. Yet death also can be a poignant reminder to the survivors not only of what we have lost, but also of what we still retain.
What I have retained from David’s death is all that I learned from him and all we shared over the years, and that was a great deal. I also know, because of the great number of both authors and editors whom he mentored and taught, that what he stood for and believed in will endure far beyond his passing, and if those whom he influenced in turn pass on that legacy, his contributions to society and culture will likely long outlast his name, for names are forgotten, even while the effects of the acts of those names ripple down through the ages.
That’s also true of the words and stories that were published under his editorial oversight, because the number of authors he developed and/or supported and backed over more than four decades is truly astounding, and some of us would never likely have been published without David’s expertise and understanding. David was never about finding the next best-seller; he was about finding the next good and great book that had something to say and then getting it into the best form and content possible, and then getting it published, month after month, year after year. So far as I know, few of the authors he published wrote mega-best-sellers, but many were best-sellers, and a very high percentage of them sold well.
In thinking about David’s death, I realized that upon several occasions, I have had mishaps on staircases that could have been serious, but were not. A casual acquaintance and neighbor of mine went walking several weeks ago and slipped on the ice and suffered internal cranial bleeding. When and if he will recover is uncertain. I, too, have slipped on ice while on my morning walk, and somehow managed only to bruise my back and shoulders. I could list other similarities, but that isn’t the point. What these terrible accidents brought to mind was how narrow the margin is between minor injuries and fatal impacts, and, if you will, how uncertain life is… and how important each moment can be.
And that is something with which David would have agreed, as well, because he did his best to make every moment count with not just me, but with everyone he knew, during all the years we shared.