Delivered to Tim's family and friends during the
So, when I accepted the opportunity to speak today, I did it without a lot of consideration. I think when I did it, I should have realized how wretchedly incompetent I was to make any sense of the fact that Tim has passed away: thinking about what all of you need to hear, and how ill-equipped emotionally and in terms of personality I am to say it, I think it over, and, well, I realize I am not remotely as terrified standing up here today as I probably should be. I am an analytical and somewhat pretentious guy, and I cannot offer the kind of immediacy or directness that other people have offered in remembering Tim. But, I can manage something, so let me try.
Let me start by giving you a sense of how I have been holding up. In the last few days I have tried, in fits and starts, to remember Tim. On the one hand, every time I try, I have to imagine some place, some situation, but I cannot really remember his words or what he looked like at that moment. So I am left with the guilty feeling that I don't really remember him at all: there is just the passing shadow of his face, or his laugh, or his new glasses. Then, I will be thinking about something else entirely, and I realize that what just ran through my mind is some fragment of an unfinished conversation with him, not what I wanted to think, but what he would have said if he were there. I cannot figure out that he is gone, I suppose because I don't what of myself has been taken away with his death, and, I guess, because I don't know what of him is still inside of me.
This is all the more horrible because for the last five or six years, I had been watching-watching it too distantly- watching Tim slowly put his life and his future together. I doubt anyone in their mid-twenties thinks much about the legacy they will leave behind, much less their own funeral. I think if Tim had thought anything about it, he would have thought that it would inevitably come out wrong, like looking at a bad photo of yourself, a pile of stereotyped observations about yourself, expressed with embarrassing sincerity.
Well, Tim, we barely knew you, and that is because you died too young. You should have finished what you started. You had too much in your life: you had a family and friends who loved you, you had a career, you had a sense of what is just and what is ridiculous that taught some of us a great deal. We are not going to forget you, and that is because we are carrying too much of you to begin with. We will remember you, and strain to remember what precisely made you irreplaceable, in whatever way that we can.
So what do I remember of Tim? It occurs to me that the first thing I ever saw of Tim, and what comes up most vividly was his handwriting, on the playlists at the radio station at our college. Now, most of the page would be a list of bands, songs that had been played, and at the top of the playlists, you would have the names of the DJs. So, every other week, the page said 'Tim A." It said this in slightly shaky, slightly feminine letters, a bit long and thin. And since Tim shared his show with another person, the script would pass to another hand and another name: then Tim's handwriting, with its small, careful loops in the ays and crowded double els, would answer back with the names of three or four bands, and the conversation would continue back and forth. And the names of the bands that Tim A. was writing were the names of bands I liked also: I had never imagined that somebody else besides me could possibly like this stuff, but there it was. And so when I met Tim Aher in the flesh, there was something a little bit miraculous and incongruous about it. Here is this slim, athletic guy, with angelic eyes and dirty blond hair, in a t-shirt, cargo pants, and white waffle-knit thermal undershirt. This is Tim. And, so we should become friends. And we do. And I begin to pass time at Tim's apartment.
Let me tell you about this apartment, as it appears to me today. Tim shares this apartment with what seems to be an indeterminate number of fraternity members, and occupies what appears to be a closet with a bathroom attached to it. This room is filled with amazing books, amazing records, a bed and very little else. Because this room is so small, to talk to him I must sit cross-legged on the floor, or if he is feeling low, I sit on the bed with him. We listen to records, or talk about records, or talk about all of you people who are here today. In these conversations, Tim turns out to be the least affected, most deeply innocent person I have ever known, and we become closer friends. We watch TV occasionally, and both find it amusing, fascinating, and terrifying, perhaps because in our innocence we expect something other than cynical crap to come out of it. Whenever I watch TV with Tim, I look at the mistreated spider plant on the windowsill next to it. I worry a little bit about it, and I worry a little bit about how Tim is doing: is he taking care of himself? Will he find a better room? How happy is he? And so the next three or four years blur together in my mind, a period of bad TV, people untangling guitar cables and pulling echoplex pedals out of milk crates, advice and consultation over heavy, fried collegiate food, intractable homework assignments in syntactic linguistics, and walks down Hyde Park streets. And over this period I get into grad school, Tim graduates from college, people come and go, and Tim falls deeply in love.
Now, Tim was lucky enough to fall in love with a gentle and profoundly strong woman, someone who cared deeply for him, body and soul, who knew him well, and who is happily here with us here today. I recall meeting the two of them in Chicago a year or two ago, after most of us had left the city, and being impressed, first of all that Tim was living in an apartment with furniture, but mostly that Tim seemed so settled and content: he was taking care of a housecat, he had a domestic routine, he was domesticated. If I strain my memory, I can remember the details of the place they had together: big windows facing south, with a big set of bookshelves built into the wall there, a narrow staircase leading down to the front door, the paintings on the wall, and a little portable stereo in the kitchen. It may be a trick of memory, but there were houseplants, if I remember correctly, and they were thriving out in a greenhouse space in the back of the apartment.
The last few times I saw Tim, he seemed to be thriving in the same way. He was working through law school, and doing legal aid for people in public housing, a job he found engaging and pleasant. I think I can say today that this is the way that I would like to remember him: both as collected and full of life, somebody with a sense of right and utterly without self-righteousness. Indeed, Tim had many virtues. But in particular, Tim's capacity to fall whole-heartedly, utterly, and selflessly in love had something of God in it. This had to do with what he loved in music. Tim liked music that was cacophonous, raw, and abrasively masculine. But what Tim really saw in the music he loved was that it was free music, performed by amateurs, amateurs who were improvising and creating, who it seemed had forgotten everything and become children again, simply speaking their heart with the instruments they had been given. And in this music, anything could be an instrument, and every sound in the world could express something. And Tim loved this. It was like the peaceable kingdom: this love meant that the world had been created again, every ugly thing and spiteful thing in life had been made good, the lion would lie down with the lamb, and so on. Now Tim was not at all a sentimental or religious person. But someone-I forget who-once said that the only real critical standpoint was to view everything-they meant the modern world-in terms of the possibility of its being redeemed. I am led to think that, perhaps, Tim had a sense of hopefulness of that kind, and it is with that sense that I would like to remember him today.