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#52—Now He Knows

Greetings Philosophers,


Now he knows.


I have lost my Socrates. My heart is crying. My gratitude is unending.


Professor Emeritus Jacob Needleman passed away November 28 at 88. He was my mentor. He was my Socrates — the midwife to my spiritual self, to my learning to love the questions more than the answers, and my guide to becoming a philosopher.


I will never forget the first day I met him. I was 29 and in my last semester of college. He walked into the room, and before he even said anything, I told myself: “Now, that is a real philosopher.” I don’t know how I knew that, but I left his class that day and went to admissions, dropped my other classes and took all four classes he was teaching that semester.


At the end of the semester, he asked to speak with me. My immediate concern was that I was in trouble. Writing four separate finals for the same professor had made me nervous. Perhaps they were too similar? He asked me “What’s next for you?” I told him the truth: I had no idea. I was about to turn 30 and was no longer interested in working in special education and had a “useless” degree in philosophy. I was lost.


Then he changed my life. He said, “Well I know what you should do.” “You do,” I asked? He said: “You need to go to graduate school and teach philosophy.” That was exactly 30 years ago, December 1992. He pulled some strings, and by March 1993, I was in graduate school. I never looked back.


Far more important, however, was his impact on my personal life and marriage. He was my guide. He helped me find my True Self, buried under my ego and identification with my outer life and personality. He pulled me through periods of suicidal depression. He could be hard on me. He did not allow me to lie to myself. He called me on my bluffs.


He taught my wife and I what true love is. Not romance or compatibility or friendship — important as those are — but that true love is the wish for the growth of another’s True Self.


People often ask me if I believe in an afterlife. I never know how to answer that question. I know a lot of stories — heaven and hell, reincarnation, etc. — but the real answer is “I don’t know.” I won’t know for sure until I make that journey to the other side. As a consequence, when someone passes away, my wife and I say to one another “Now they know.”


When I learned of his passing, I said a silly prayer: “If you are still alive, please send me a sign.” This is called magical thinking! Nevertheless, that night I had a dream that I received a text message. When I looked at it the message said: “Now I know.” My mind probably fabricated that, but it brought me to tears and an odd comfort.


The poet Claudia Jensen Dudley wrote some verses that I read shortly after his death:


“Years ago he quoted me Rumi, [which he did] /who said death is the wedding night. /And I think [Jacob] would now say /each moment is preparation /to let waves of sky sweep us /to a depth we could not otherwise know.

/And I ask him now: /Is this seeming oblivion /the guardian of a cosmos of light? /Of spiral and return? /Of a vast, ineffable, /and perhaps most fertile sleep?

/He answers not in words but in mystery.

/But you, little words, go to where my friend is now. /Gratitude, make him grow. /Strength and his purpose, remain. /And waves of Being, undulant, hold him aloft.”


I have lost my Socrates. My heart is crying. My gratitude is unending.


Now he knows.


Apophat

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