In the narrow hallway behind the chapel, someone had set out coffee and pastries. After the service, we gathered there, in small circles mostly, and started talking about Dee.
After a while, the sad talk gave way to remembrance of some of the funny things Dee had said or done. M. and I remembered/laughed at how appalled she was to find out that the CEO of WHYY/PBS makes $500K a year. “But that’s a fraction of what the average CEO makes,” I’d said. “And he’s running a major affiliate in a top-five market.” No matter. Dee was pissed.
Thinking back on who Dee was, that reaction really wasn’t funny at all. It made complete sense. Her thinking probably went something like this (and forgive me, Dee, for presuming to speak for you; but what choice do I have?): “Bringing important, enlightening information to people — without the taint of commercialism — is a reward in itself. PBS shouldn’t need half-a-million dollars to get an eager, capable person to do it.”
Of all the Dee stories I could be telling, I’m not sure this is the right one. But it taps into a big part of who Dee was. She had an unwavering sense of Justice, which is hard to find in this world. (Not “justice” as most of us conceive it — e.g., a guy breaks into your house, a judge punishes him — a desperate attempt to bring balance to, and control over, the universe’s inherent chaos.) Dee’s sense of Justice was about more than mere fairness; it was an extension of a pure vision, however nebulous, of what the world should be.
As I left the church Saturday morning and drove off, I thought about the difference between rare people like Dee and everyone else. I would always tell Dee to stop obsessing over her political blogs, to stop worrying so much. “What can you do?” I’d say. When something unjust happens, you endure a moment of sadness and then quickly let it go. What can you do? The world is what it is. But no, Dee wouldn’t have it. Wouldn’t have a world that insisted on showing itself as different — worse — that it should be, than it could be.
George Bernard Shaw once wrote: “The reasonable man adapts himself to the world; the unreasonable one persists in trying to adapt the world to himself. Therefore all progress depends on the unreasonable man.” Dee was unreasonable. Her frustration and anger were unreasonable. But if it weren’t for people like her, the world would be weighed down with nothing but ineffectual dopes like me who just accept things as they are. Dee Howard, in her not-so-small way, pushed the human race forward. She pushed the world closer to the way it should be.
Jesus Christ on toast points, I’m gonna miss that gal.
P.S. It’s worth mentioning that Dee detested Shaw. She once wrote: “With everything [he] writes, you can hear him congratulating himself. The minute I didn’t have to read any more of his plays for a survey course, I cheered.” Now that’s funny.