I’m in Washington, D.C. at Union Station waiting for my Amtrak train back to New York after a pretty incredible weekend. I’m going to write a few posts to jot down my impressions and experiences from my weekend at the Reason Rally and the American Atheists’ annual convention. In this post, I’ll start by describing my impressions of my companion for the weekend, Richard Wade of the Friendly Atheist blog.
Ever since I interviewed Richard, he and I have been good friends online, exchanging many IMs over many hours. Way back when we were doing our interview sessions a year ago he suggested I attend the Reason Rally because he wanted to meet me. Without that seed being planted in my head, I may not have ever thought to make the rally my first big foray into the world of real life atheist gatherings, but I’m sure glad I did. So, a few months ago I contacted him about rooming together and doing all the events together and we did. And it was a real treat.
I have always admired Richard for his wise insights and for the exemplary humaneness with which he treats people in his groundbreaking “Ask Richard” column. And this weekend, having long hours to interact with him face to face and to discuss life and ideas, I have a whole new appreciation for him. Based on his written expression, I always expected him to be a relatively staid, serious, and compassionate person. I had no idea that overlaying an inner perfectionist streak, he would have the air of a classic, laid back California guy and would be prone to totally let loose as just the goofiest geek when excited. He’s funny, animated, enthusiastic, and laughs easily, loudly, and at length. And he laughs hardest and most joyfully when being teased even though he hardly seems inclined at all to tease back. I take it he also expected me to be a little more serious and less the geeky goofball I am too. We both come across as more serious in our writing than in person, I think.
His generosity and concern for people are palpable. He saw so much misery in his long career dealing with addicts (many of whom killed themselves), and he suffered so much on their account, that his bliss seems like that of a man who has been through hell and back serving other people and who, on that account, knows life can be just too painful if one wastes it in self-absorbed, self-defeating bullshit, and so he doesn’t. Many wry, critical, shrewd, and sometimes even cynical candid remarks indicated that for all his unrestrained exuberance at what pleases him, he is also quite a realist. Off the cuff in private he also felt comfortable letting loose a more razor edged anti-theist atheism than comes through in his blog posts. I get the impression he has made a thorough, conscientious, and successful choice to affirm life as much as possible, to exorcize his every demon as proactively as possible, to treat people as caringly and carefully as possible, and to express his feelings shamelessly—while also judiciously reserving them just enough to make those around him as comfortable as possible. He is unassumingly remarkable and layered like an onion. I just loved getting to know him.
For an amusing anecdote from the weekend Richard and I spent together, read about how we met Supreme Court Justice Elena Kagan in a crosswalk in D.C. To learn more about Richard in his own words, read any or all of the installments from our wide-ranging 8 part interview. Below are links to all the installments titled by topic: