Monday, August 3, 2009

Any man's death diminishes me

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend's or of thine own were. Any man's death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee…

—John Donne

I learned yesterday (HT Chas at Southern Rockies Nature Blog) of the death of Winston Branko Churchill. I'd never met him or even heard of him, though it's likely we were very distant cousins; from what I've learned of him, I suspect I'd have liked him. Certainly we had some things in common: a love of nature, an uncomfortable relationship with modern society, a taste for good coffee. We were nearly the same age, both wore our hair long, both enjoyed sharing music with others as DJs.

Like most people, he seems to have been a set of contradictions, and can be interpreted in a sympathetic or unsympathetic light: Idealist. Failed business owner. Perfectionist. Druggie. Philosopher. Recluse. Even those who were close to him cannot agree on critical questions like whether, at the end, he chose to die or simply failed to stay alive.

There are no answers here. Clearly he had friends and family, people who cared about him, worried about him, used every resource at their disposal (including the In Search of Winston blog) to try to find him and help him—but no one knows if he would have been willing to accept help. He kept a journal, but after being buried in 20 feet of snow and then soaked in the spring thaw, it could not be read. And so we who remain, whether we knew Winston Branko Churchill or not, are left with only pictures from his camera and questions about his final days.

I hope he found what he was looking for.

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