The top picture is of Daniel Kaufman. Nobody ever called him Larry. He was named after the Elton John song. And he was my brother. Adopted, that’s why his name is different; he was my cousin by birth. My parents adopted him when he was 10 and I was 7. He taught me how to tie my shoelaces. He taught me how to shave. The one at left was the last picture he texted me, on November 7. He’s giving the Vulcan salute because he was at a place in Van Nuys which was used as a filming location in Star Trek.
He was killed by Muslim terrorists in San Bernardino on December 2, along with 13 other people. He was 42. He was laid to rest earlier today.
Danny, as I always called him, was a deeply kind and gentle man. He had a soft spot all his life for sick plants or animals. He was always rescuing some injured cat or bird, or keeping a potato in a cup of water so it would grow. He brought home an injured duck once, and we let it live in our pool. Everything you’ve heard about what a cheerful and gregarious person he was is true. He also loved horror movies and Comic Con and Clive Barker novels and George Takei Facebook posts. He especially loved the Renaissance Faire. His life basically revolved around it and his boyfriend, Ryan.
You might only imagine my parents’ sorrow. I would recommend against trying to.
For myself, I’ve often thought since that day of a passage from Mark Twain, in which he tells how he reacted when he learned that his favorite daughter, Susy, had died. “It is one of the mysteries of our nature that a man, all unprepared, can receive a thunder-stroke like that and live,” he writes.
There is but one reasonable explanation of it. The intellect is stunned by the shock, and but gropingly gathers the meaning of the words. The power to realize their full import is mercifully wanting. The mind has a dumb sense of vast loss—that is all. It will take mind and memory months, and possibly years, to gather together the details, and thus learn and know the whole extent of the loss. A man’s house burns down. The smoking wreckage represents only a ruined home that was dear through years of use and pleasant associations. By and by, as the days and weeks go on, first he misses this, then that, then the other thing. And, when he casts about for it, he finds that it was in that house. Always it is an essential—there was but one of its kind. It cannot be replaced. It was in that house. It is irrevocably lost. He did not realize that it was an essential when he had it; he only discovers it now when he finds himself balked, hampered, by its absence. It will be years before the tale of lost essentials is complete, and not till then can he truly know the magnitude of his disaster.
Our own disaster is worsened by the fact that this is such a big news story. We’ve chosen not to speak to the press, or attend any public memorial services. We hope this is not taken as a sign of disrespect. We loved Danny, and always will, and are exceedingly grateful to his many friends for their kindness. We are grateful, too, for the many police, sheriff, and fire officials of the city and county of San Bernardino, and the FBI, who’ve tried to help. Different people grieve in different ways.
There Are a Few Things I Would Like to Clarify.
First, although Danny was gay, he was not killed for that reason. The jihadists certainly didn’t stop to ask. Danny was a human being capable of thought and love. That was enough to make him dear to us—and to make him a target for jihad. There are rumors he was Jewish. He was not.
There are also rumors that he saved some people’s lives during the attacks. I know of no evidence to support this, and rumors of this sort tend to circulate at such times, but it would certainly have been in character. However that may be, nobody’s life should be weighed on the basis of its last few seconds. The reason we miss Danny was his cheerfulness, compassion, and capacity for love throughout his 42 years. He was a man and a brother.
Second, our family does not believe in the supernatural in any way; quite the contrary. But we also do not object to or resent the offers we’ve had from many kind people to pray for us. Indeed, I was shocked and disappointed that some of my fellow atheists rushed in their sadness to insult those who made such offers. As Shakespeare says, we receive offered love like love, and will not wrong it. We appreciate the thoughtfulness of our religious friends, and we celebrate the freedom of, and from, religion that jihadists would destroy.
Third, my family has always believed, and still believes, that all people everywhere have a fundamental right to possess guns for self-defense, against criminals as well as against the government; that this right is enshrined on an equal footing with other essential rights in our Constitution, and that all elected officials are bound by oath to respect and protect it. Efforts to disarm law-abiding people, such as are now underway, are counterproductive and wrong. Danny shared our belief on this matter.
But we also believe that political questions should not be decided on the basis of emotion. Gun rights and other constitutional issues should be subject to rational thought, based on ethics, law, history, and politics. Emotional demands to “do something!” are just begging for irresponsible lawmaking. We also recognize that the fact that our loved one happened to believe in gun rights does not make our views either more or less credible than they were before his death. Those interested in the right to possess firearms should study the relevant constitutional history and so forth—not react based on feelings.
Our own belief is as it has always been: that gun control laws are largely unconstitutional, and mostly ineffective. They certainly were in this case. I would suggest that those who agree with us consider making a contribution to the Second Amendment Foundation, the nation’s best and most effective organization devoted to protecting this crucial constitutional right.
The U.S. Needs To Defeat The Enemy
Fourth, I believe there is no solution to the jihadist threat short of victory against our enemies. When attacked, one has a basic choice: one can curtail one’s own behavior, in hopes that the enemy can be persuaded not to attack again—or one can accept the challenge, and defeat that enemy.
The United States has so far largely chosen the former. For years now, officials of both parties have refused to face the fact that we are targeted by theocratic totalitarian movement, funded and overseen by Saudi Arabia and Iran, among others, which is committed to the destruction of the values essential to civilization. Our current president believes that the war against Islamofascism should be “ended.” But wars are never “ended.” They are either won or lost. Unless we accept the responsibility of victory, attacks like this—like Fort Hood, like Chattanooga, like Little Rock, like Los Angeles, Boston, Garland, Madrid, London, Bali, New Delhi, Delhi, Delhi again, Paris, Paris again, and so many others, including, of course, New York City—will only continue.
War is horrible. But it is not the worst horror. A life without freedom or law is still worse. Peace, said Churchill, cannot be “preserved by praising its virtues.” Nor by lowering flags to half-staff, reading lists of victims’ names, putting “coexist” bumper stickers on your car, having James Taylor play at your press conferences, etc. That may feel nice, but the future of freedom, peace, and civilization requires more than hugs and hashtags. It demands that we compel the Islamist aggressor, who has warred against us since 1979, to cease making war and accept peace on civilized terms.
Our family agrees with the sentiment expressed by Christopher Hitchens: “We might practice nailing the colors to the mast rather than engaging in a permanent dress rehearsal for masochism and the lachrymose.” It is for this reason that we choose not to participate in public demonstrations of mourning.
Those of us who also serve by only standing and waiting must respond in just the way that our enemy most despises: by living our lives exactly as we would have done. That means cherishing our freedom; celebrating our secular, free institutions; relishing the pleasures of life as physical beings; respecting the special spark in each individual person—here, in this world, during this life. Our values triumph each time we exercise them.
Danny and I watched the attacks of September 11, 2001, together on the TV in our living room. I can say with certainty that—to the extent that so kind a man was capable of understanding such evil—he believed in defying the barbarian by living just as we choose: freely, tolerantly, skeptically, joyfully, laughingly, humanly. After the (most recent) Paris attack, Danny enjoyed watching over and over again this well-known video by Andrew Neil. It expresses very well what he believed, and what our family believes.
Do Some Good In This World
Finally, many people have asked what they can do to honor Danny’s memory. I think the best answer is, do some good in this world. I have some suggestions: First, an organization called the RESCU Foundation provides health care assistance to people who participate in the Renaissance Faire. Danny himself contributed to them on occasion. Second, he loved and cared for animals all his life, and our family often faced the sad prospect of being unable to afford veterinarian bills. The Pet Fund is a nationwide charity devoted to helping people pay for health care for their pet friends. A donation in Danny’s name to either of these groups would be a fine way to celebrate his kindness.
As Ryan said, “The world will suffer from having one less person like him in it.” You might also consider supporting the Ayaan Hirsi Ali Foundation, as our family does, to oppose a primitive ideology that reduces women to the status of slaves.
For centuries, people have pondered the meaning of evil. But the solution to the riddle is that evil has no meaning. Evil is the absence of meaning; it is meaninglessness. To build, to create, to act in the world—these all have meaning. Evil cannot. It is only a black hole that can tear apart meaningful things, and return them to the hollow silence of the universe.
This is what we mean when we say that evil is “banal.” It lacks the infinite grandeur of even a grain of sand, let alone of laughter, or of a kiss. In that sense, evil does not matter. It is incapable of mattering. It cannot live or mean things. The best it can do is look on in ire, envy, and despair. And the envious are always walled off from the world that we, the living, inhabit, by an invisible and impervious barrier that they erect themselves; they always have the deadly touch of King Midas.
We defy evil and envy when we live. Living in this world sheds light into darkness. It is all we can do, and all that needs to be done, and it is more than enough. Therefore, we shall live. We shall be joyful, hard-working, silly, creative, and smart and sexy and brave and fun. Be a brief candle that helps spread another light.
My family appreciates you respecting their privacy and not contacting them directly. But we would like to hear from people who knew Danny and would like to participate in a memorial project we’re working on. Any and all messages you would like to convey must be sent to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article was reprinted with permission from Timothy Sandefur.