A Few Memories

By now everyone has heard the heartbreaking news of Dan Markel’s untimely passing. Others have written eloquently about Dan’s intellectual gifts, his ability as a teacher, his scholarly contributions, and his commitment to mentorship. It is striking to me that the reaction is not only “this is a horrible tragedy” — which of course it is — but also “this simply cannot be.” Maybe one reason is that — particularly for those of us who entered legal academia in the past decade or so — there’s simply no such thing as legal academia without Prawfsblawg, without Dan’s larger-than-life presence in the blogosphere, without his generous feedback on papers, and without his ceaseless efforts to improve the legal academic community.

I didn’t know Dan anywhere near as long or as well as many of his colleagues did, and this post will be a small drop in the river of memories from people whose lives Dan touched. But for whatever it’s worth, I thought I would add a few of my own.

I met Dan in person for the first time about a year and a half ago, when I presented a paper at Florida State. For various logistical reasons, I ended up spending an extra night in Tallahassee, which also happened to be the night of my thirty-fourth birthday. Dan found out about this somehow and insisted on organizing a dinner for me. It was simply unacceptable to him that a colleague would spend her birthday eating room service in a hotel room. Thanks to Dan I spent the evening surrounded by new friends, feasting on cheesy grits, and sipping Blanton’s bourbon.

After that, Dan was my colleague, just like he was everyone else’s colleague, and he read my drafts and sent me feedback on my articles, just like he read everyone’s drafts and sent everyone feedback. He was also my friend, just like he was everyone’s friend — Dave Hoffman aptly calls him “our Kevin Bacon.” He sent me good luck messages whenever I was speaking at a colloquium. He sent me pictures of kittens when I was in the hospital last summer. (Dan’s loathing of cats is well-documented, so I considered this a particularly generous and selfless gesture.)

Let me be clear: Dan did these sorts of things not because I was special, but because he was special. Hundreds, probably thousands of other people have stories just like mine. To Dan, this was just how you treated colleagues. It was how you treated people.

On Saturday morning, when I first heard the horrible news, I couldn’t really concentrate on anything else, and I found myself rereading some of our text messages. One in particular stands out to me. Dan was stranded in an airport somewhere, and texted to say hello. He mentioned that his flight was very delayed, but that “Louis CK wisdom will prevail.”

“Louis CK wisdom?” I texted back. “What’s that?”

So then he sent me a link to this video clip:

One of the things I admired most about Dan was his deep appreciation for the ways that life really is amazing. He will be missed.