It always sucks when I feel the need to do an obituary on this blog. The older you get (I am 45), the more friends and family you know who have been taken away, often before their prime. The world is a little dimmer place tonight, the day after the passing of my friend Erik J. Landwehr, who died yesterday, March 14, 2018, of a heart condition. Erik was a wonderful person whose way of seeing the world was different than many of us. His passion to see and make a world that was fairer, more diverse, more inclusive and more equitable was a defining characteristic of his personality as I knew him. Erik was autistic, in fact one of the first autistic people I’ve known well in my life. But each of the things he was–autistic, Jewish, LGBT, and a person with a disability–brought him another layer of perspective that all of us can honor and learn from, and all of those layers synthesized into a fiercely passionate and vibrantly unique way of seeing not only what the world is, but more importantly, what it could become.
I met Erik on social media, on Twitter in fact, in the summer of 2016–the long, mean, ugly season that I never really recovered from. He tweeted a lot about politics and LGBT issues, and we began connecting over direct messages. I didn’t agree with all of his very strongly-held political opinions, but he was a very interesting person to talk to, and he was still then in the process of figuring out who he was and finding his voice in the world. Erik’s life was filled with challenges but his incredible resilience, even after suffering heartbreaking obstacles and setbacks, amazed me. Through it all his devotion to advancing political and social causes, increasing diversity, honesty in politics and the economy, personal liberty and social equality was nothing short of ferocious. Despite the many challenges he faced, he never stopped caring about the rest of us. In fact, his challenges made him care even more. Autistic people are often described as “intense.” But if we really are to make the world a better place, that ferocious intensity is exactly what we need.
Erik in happier times. I prefer to remember him like this, with a smile.
In the fall of 2017, Erik was displaced by the Santa Rosa wildfires–and he thus became the first climate change refugee that I knew personally. Somehow that trying experience reignited his health issues. I was slow to catch on to his decline and the seriousness of his condition which truly took a turn for the worse a month or so ago. He continued to message me, often in the evenings, even while in the hospital. His final message, the night before he lost consciousness for the last time, was a “Good night” message filled with smiling emojis and a generally cheerful vibe. That was Erik. The days that have gone by since then have been agonizing, and the last few very sad. He was only 37, way too young to be taken from us. My heart goes out to his family, his friends, everyone whose life was made more cheerful and richer by him. We have all suffered a loss.
Nonetheless, as a fellow Jew I believe, as Erik did, that we have a duty to leave the world a better place than we found it. He is gone now, but it remains to us to build the better world that Erik wanted and hoped that we could all live in. Whether it’s teaching or fighting climate change (two things I do), or making the world richer through art or music or literature, or protesting injustice, or simply and powerfully passing on the desire for a fairer, cleaner and more equitable world to those who come after us, we all have a part to play, as Erik himself did. He was a mensch, a human being, and a uniquely kind, thoughtful and passionate one. In our faith there is no higher compliment.
Farewell, my friend. We’ll take it from here.