Remembering Mark Lanier
Monday, April 1, 2019
I keep flashing onto a warm January day in Oxford, Mississippi, sunlight fluttering through trees outside, a few of us inside, exploring Rowan Oak, Mark’s beloved Faulkner’s home. It was an oddly perfect day in a perfect house. But inhabiting it reduced this mythical figure, whose words I’d read and re-read, whose words Mark himself worshipped, to a human being. One who had fights with his wife, who washed himself, who used the toilet. Sometimes we only think about people through the lens of their greatness and don’t consume ourselves with the personal moments that, in the shadow of their greatness, we allow ourselves to dim.
In experiencing Mark’s passing, I am finding myself in a similar exercise to the one that we performed at Rowan Oak: wandering into the huge heart-beating life of a house that Mark inhabited, feeling silly that I am surprised that behind this larger-than-life figure that he was, was also someone who felt and hurt and lived.
He taught us all so much simply by the way he would somehow both grandly and unassumingly walk into a room and inhabiting the space among us. We were so lucky to have shared it, and I wish I could have expressed more of this to him. Learning though is probably at its best when it makes you uncomfortable, and I am learning now in that way, lessons I did not necessarily want to learn, but through his passing, Mark has brought me and us here.
Yours in the bonds,
Mark was, quite simply, the heart and soul of this chapter. As the long-serving secretary of the 1853 Foundation, he sustained Lambda through good times and through times of struggle. He was a fixture at initiations and at various national gatherings through the years. It’s quite likely that Mark, with his bear-like hug, was the first alumnus to welcome you into the bonds.
Fond memories of Mark spring easily to mind. Those who saw one of his “Who Are You?” performances witnessed a theatrical masterpiece. Those who swapped book recommendations with him are probably still making our way through his towering and eclectic reading list. Those who shared a meal or took a walk with him were dazzled, every time, by his omnivorous appetite for knowledge. His empathy, his wisdom, his gentleness, and his wit immediately endeared Mark to everyone he came across. And then, of course, there was his voice like molasses and the jolly rumble of his laugh. (That Morgan Freeman seems to be the standard narrator for most documentaries these days is due to a simple oversight -- Mark hadn’t been discovered.)
One bright spring day, Mark and I took a tour of the Huntington Library and Gardens. It was a playground for someone with Mark’s wildly eclectic love of learning. Casually, he transformed our stroll through the collections and gardens into a master class in world culture -- everything from portraiture, to poetry, to bonsai. And that’s how I’ll always remember Mark: standing in the sunshine of Southern California, inspecting the branches on a Chinese elm.
Mark’s light burned brightly and illuminated the way for so many brothers and sisters. Now it’s left to us to carry that light forward.
I hope you’ll be able to take some time to remember Mark, in whatever way you choose. As a family of siblings, we mourn the deep sadness of his loss yet celebrate the profound joy that he gave.
Yours in the bonds,