Neil Longo was baffling and endearing to me from the first time we met. He was to become dearer and dearer, without ceasing to baffle.
I recall, early in our acquaintance (which resulted from his enrolling in a political philosophy class of mine and coming in to discuss a paper he wanted to improve), that we tended to lock horns a bit in trying to come to mutual understanding. I’ve had brilliant students of all kinds in my 35 years of teaching, but never one with the prodigious philosophical-religious imagination that moved Neil. His thinking knew no limits and no disciplinary boundaries. I took my job to be to tutor him in the skill and discipline of expounding a serious philosophical text, to ground his intellectual habits in the primary task of understanding an author and knowing how to take his argument apart and put it together again – this before proceeding to any original theorizing one might be moved to undertake. But Neil was a little impatient with the early steps in this textual approach to philosophizing. It wasn’t that he dismissed their value; he was just so moved by the possibilities he saw emerging that he couldn’t wait to venture further, to explore, to express or just gesture toward some higher, deeper, richer, more beautiful possibility. He really couldn’t contain his love for a beautiful truth he thought he had glimpsed just beyond the horizon of whatever I was trying to get him to focus on.
Our little struggles were never rancorous (though I can’t promise that I never showed any impatience). We arrived at a good working arrangement as Neil conceded the value of working through the preliminaries I was insisting on and I began to glimpse enough of his visions to make some concessions to his slighting of some basics. I’m sure I never quite fully grasped the visions, the ways of re-dividing and re-combining the moral and spiritual possibilities, that Neil was trying to communicate. But we were able to find many fruitful intersections between our visions, and I always learned from our conversations. And I was always touched by the earnestness of Neil’s quest.
Neil didn’t know the meaning of going through the motions, submitting routine assignments, just checking boxes necessary to graduate or to get ahead. The intellectual enterprise was deeply spiritual and personal for Neil. I’m afraid I never fully grasped how personal it was. Even how urgent. I see now I should somehow have kept him closer. For his sake, and for mine.
–Ralph C. Hancock