Word has just arrived of the death of Arnold Beichman at the age of 96. Arnold was, I think, the most extraordinary man I've ever known, and though I first knew him as a boy, I found to my wonderment that I became his friend as a man, even though he was nearly a half-century older.
And yet he was not older. He was younger. Younger than I at 23 when he was 72 and we became reacquainted at the Washington Times; younger than I at 47 when I last saw him in his 97th year, though he had finally wearied enough of walking that he was mostly using a wheelchair. Whatever Arnold Beichman had in him, if they could bottle it and we could take it, we would immediately lead lives of energy and purpose, high good humor and great good feeling, and a sense that, though there were very dark forces at work in the world, the world itself was a wonderful place and one should embrace it and drink it deep to the dregs, and then drink the dregs and relish them too.
That's exactly right. That's exactly how I felt traversing the midnight streets of DC with Beichman thirty years ago, after one of John O'Sullivan's notoriously late dinners, when he was (I am now surprised to realize) already in his late 60s.
Beichman waited along with me for a (notoriously late) O'Sullivan dinner date in my New York Flatiron district loft while I wrote the conclusion to my Canadian book (reading it with kind whoops of approval, his wife's homeland of Canada being one of his many interests). I remember, after he had ridden down in the elevator appreciatively studying one of the many young models living in the building, his dismissing my suggestion that he write a novel on the grounds that "you can't write about sex after you're fifty", which (in his case at least) I don't believe.
The great cause of Beichman's life, the struggle against Communism, has been completely forgotten. I now realize I don't actually know what he thought about the succeeding struggle, the National Question of whether the U.S. can remain a nation in the face of unprecedented non-traditional immigration, partly because the savagery with which the neoconservatives turned on their allies when we dared raise the question made social contact (at least apparently in their minds) difficult. I read his account of his family's Jewish immigrant experience as an argument against the corruption of the welfare state. But I know that immigration enthusiasts like John Podhoretz see it as proof that this exceptional experience must inevitably be reproduced. I note, however, that no obituarist reports what Beichman told me, that his family sat shiva when he married a non-Jewish woman, or reflects upon what that means for assimilation.
My last meeeting with Beichman was five years ago, when, sprightly as ever, he sat in the midst of the Hoover Institution annual gathering in Washington, to which (see above!) I seem to be no longer invited.
I made my way across to him and asked if he knew that my wife, Maggy, who had accompanied us all to so many of those notoriously late O'Sullivan dinners, was prematurely dead of breast cancer.
In a gesture of great grace and power, Arnold raised his hand and smashed it wordlessly against his thigh.
I now reciprocate.
Let light perpetual shine upon him.