R.I.P. Gerard Vanderleun
One of my favorite people whom I’ve never met passed away a few days ago, and I’d like you to know a little bit about him.
His name was Gerard Vanderleun and he wrote a “blog” — but it was far more than that — that he called American Digest. He gave it a tagline: “Duty, Beauty, Liberty, Country, Honor, Family, Faith”.
For 20+ years he created true art in written form that entertained you, delighted you, made you laugh and cry, consecutively and even at the same time. He told stories, reflected on life and its beauty, wonder, mystery, and absurdities. He noted his own metamorphosis as he traveled through life, especially spiritually and politically.
But he loved the visual too — he took photos, he discovered and showcased photos by others, he linked to fascinating videos. On 9/11 he lived in Brooklyn and watched the towers fall, and then over the next several months he took 10,000 photos in New York City to document the aftermath.
And he really liked people. He wrote often about his parents, his brothers, his marriages, his friends … and his estranged daughter that he never stopped loving. It came through in his writing, loud and clear.
What he didn’t do was write about news or politics or much of anything current, with very rare exceptions. His site was therefore like an oasis in the desert, a welcome break from the relentless emotion-triggering that the internet turned into long ago.
Some people have a gift and they use it perfectly to make the world a better place, and he did that exceedingly well.
His ability to string words together in unanticipated and clever ways, to paint pictures in your head, to tell stories, to make you feel things, was as good as anyone alive or dead. I learned many things about communicating in written form just by reading his work.
SO many times I would arrive at the end of another of his wonderful essays and just think “wow … now that was a piece of writing!”
The ways that he inspired and encouraged me over that 20 years … this is impossible to put into words. I discovered his blog by chance way back in 2002-3 when he somehow found my little unknown blog and left a comment there, probably as a result of his seeing a comment of mine somewhere else.
Reading him improved my own writing, to summarize it in a few words.
However it happened, my life was enriched by his efforts, many many times over the next 20 years, and I am very thankful.
My suggestion to you: carve out a few minutes from the usual daily routine and read a few of his essays. A list of just a few of my favorites is below but his website — still around for awhile but time waits for no one — spans 20 years, and out of all the millions of personal websites that have been built over that time this is one of those special few that deserves to live forever in a museum, if such a thing existed.
But as for me, I can do a little something to memorialize him on this site, as a personal note of deep gratitude and to recognize his legacy.