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In Memoriam: Mark Kilmer

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,

For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,

Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.

Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,

And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,

And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

Mark Kilmer was my friend. While he walked the Earth, he laughed at Death.

He mocked it. Taunted it. Defied it with every second of his existence. No raging at Death with a full, unvarnished Ahabesque fury for him. Rather, his was a style that demonstrated command of Grace and Mischief and he employed those two twin weapons with devastating effect even as Death sought to surround and besiege his life with Panic and Melancholy. That timeless tyrant, which had laid kings and emperors low with fright and terror before taking them was rendered powerless by Mark’s cheerful determination and determined cheerfulness. Despite Death’s efforts to haunt, to stalk, to torment, its frightful effect was waved away and dismissed as impotent by Mark Kilmer, to whom valiance was second nature. Despite Death’s attempted depredations, Mark continued to champion and maintain his peace of mind and with Herculean effort, he created a refuge for himself, for his beloved Diane and for the whole of his family. Until the very end, he gave himself and his loved ones all the comfort and solace that he could muster. And what he could muster was considerable.

Death took Mark Kilmer one day shy of the birthday of his hero–and mine–Ronald Reagan. But Death did not triumph. Death won no victory. This was a hollow taking that should bring the tyrant no joy. As in life, Mark Kilmer, my friend, got the last laugh over Death.

So as I write this, I smile too; despite the redness in my eyes and the wetness of my cheeks. If Mark could laugh at Death, who am I to cower in its wake? If Mark could resolve to defy the tyrant and teach us to do the same by showing us just how valuable life is, who am I to gainsay his example or to oppose his teachings?

To be sure, the loss is powerful enough to cause me to weep at moments of weakness when I forget–even if it is for a moment–Mark’s sterling example. Paradoxically, however, while I knew Mark through his e-mails and his writing, I never met him in person. I could only imagine what he was like and the picture of him in the post written by my RedState colleague, Erick Erickson, is precisely how I pictured Mark; with a twinkle in his eye and with ineffable joy in his heart and mind. Over a course of years, he introduced his personality to me and to my RedState colleagues. We soon learned of his likes and dislikes. His likes included Reagan, politics, the Steelers, and J.S. Bach and his dislikes included, among other things, blowhardism on the Sunday Talk Shows.

An idea was born. Given Mark’s ability to offer trenchant and cogent political analysis, why not have him do a weekly round-up of the Sunday talk shows? He agreed and the feature at RedState became his trademark. Within short order, Mark created for himself quite the impressive fan base.

The rest of us might have been envious. Mark achieved what so many writers dream of achieving; a niche all his own. But whatever envy we felt was subsumed by the love all of us at RedState felt for my friend. For our friend.

He had so many great and noble qualities. One might have resented him if one were not charmed and captivated by his inherent goodness and roguish sense of humor. I don’t mean it as a criticism or an insult to write that he was a master of the written sucker punch. He would have his readers rolling along, caught up in some emotion or other, or perhaps just a straight telling or retelling of the facts of a particular story or issue, and suddenly he would surprise them with deadpan humor inserted at just the proper place, or a measured dose of sarcasm deployed against the deserving, or perhaps a whimsical observation that would leave the rest of us chuckling and wondering at Mark’s unique–and uniquely powerful–mind and its ability to deliver observations we might not have considered. Observations we might have overlooked. Observations that when introduced to us by Mark, enriched us.

We loved my friend. Our friend. He was our sage. Our kindly counsel. He was decent and honest with us always.

His encouragement and well-wishes for us and for the success of RedState became a form of valued currency amongst the Contributors. And he was never stingy about sharing encouragement with us. Those who are generous with their praise run the risk of having that praise cheapened but somehow, despite Mark’s constant and consistent efforts to support us and to support the mission of RedState, his praise maintained its value no matter how much it was dished out. How does one achieve that? How does one keep from cheapening that which one gives with such kindness and abundance? To subvert the laws of supply and demand in determining the value of one’s own considered praise is no mean feat. Mark achieved it on a regular basis with us. We marveled at his skill and talent. We marveled at his gift of being consequential. Happily and proudly, we rejoiced in his fellowship with us and looked forward to growing old with him.

Death, in its malicious and arbitrary ways, must have resolved to seek to cut short our joy. It found a place where it could cast its shadow. It must have believed that the victory would come quick, that Mark would soon be laid low, that in triumph, Death could repair to its cold fortress, alone, contemplate its latest conquest, alone, exalt in its mastery, alone. Alone and despised by all except Death itself. With this grim and remorseless resolve, Death sought to cast its shadow over Mark Kilmer.

And Mark brought his light against the darkness.

Discovering that he had throat cancer, Mark resolved to fight it. He fought with the marvels of modern science and medicine. He fought with his Diane at his side. He fought by writing his fellow RedState Contributors with his periodic “News From the World of Medicine,” which he would send in e-mail form. With an eye both tender and dispassionate, Mark would explain to all of us what he was going through, how he was coping, what the physical battle was like, what the mental struggle was like and how it shaped his loving relationship with Diane and with God. He was like a tour guide for the rest of us, taking us on a journey few of us had traveled. He seemed to realize that Death thrived on mystery so he sought to strip the mystery away from what he was going through. He would end his e-mails with a restated resolve to live a long life if God allowed it to be possible. In doing so, he taught us to value our own health, our own lives, the preciousness of our existence on this Earth. More than once, when going through a bad day, I found myself sustained by Mark’s words.

It may be a cliché to write this, but Mark was deeply brave in facing his illness. He would almost never betray any anger, any fear, any sense of bitterness concerning his battle with cancer. The only times I got a glimpse of what might have been raging in his heart was when someone (I don’t even remember who) wrote something in an e-mail that seemed to be dismissive of cancer’s ability to wreak havoc in a life and Mark came down on that person like a ton of bricks, reminding us all in the process that however brave his example–and he was genuinely courageous–cancer and Death were nothing with which to trifle. Of course, his words carried weight with us and we heeded his entirely just requests.

The episode made me wonder. Was Mark afraid in the quiet places of his heart? Perhaps. But of course, courage is not the absence of fear. It is the overcoming of it. It would be a person made of stone who could entirely exile the sensation of fear when contemplating mortality. But one need not be made of stone in order to overcome fear. One need only be extraordinary. Mark Kilmer was extraordinary. He personified courage for me.

Things seemed to get better. Death was in retreat. Mark appeared to have beaten back his cancer and the doctors told him that he was in the clear.

And then, the cancer returned.

We were informed in an e-mail that is too recent and too painful to write much about. We were asked to pray, and we did. Alas, Mark’s time came. With his loss, Death preens and asks us to acknowledge anew its power.

I won’t do it. And you shouldn’t either.

The laughter and the mischief, the grace and the serenity that were and are redolent in the writings that Mark will leave as just one part of a rich legacy, taught all those who came into contact with him that while Death will visit us all, how we contend with the visit will help determine how we are remembered. It will bring to light the very character of our souls. True to the absolute essence of his self, Mark Kilmer, my friend, our friend, comported himself justly, honorably, and with a full heart, even unto the end. By his example, he throws down the gauntlet to all of us and asks us to follow his example.

It shall be difficult to laugh at Death when all I want to do is weep. But for Mark’s sake, I shall try to laugh. Laughter will be halting, at best, tonight. But in time, I will laugh more easily at Death and when I do, I’ll thank Mark Kilmer, my friend, our friend, for his teaching and his example. I am poorer for having lost him. But I am better for having known him.

Death be not proud, though some have called thee

Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,

For, those, whom thou think’st, thou dost overthrow,

Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.

From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,

Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,

And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,

Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.

Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,

And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,

And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,

And better then thy stroake; why swell’st thou then;

One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,

And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.

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