Farewell to My Fellow Traveler

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Whatever libertarians and Marxists say, human experience is neither the pursuit of self-interest nor is it class struggle. Man is made for the worship of God and for human friendship. Anyone who knew Aaron Wolf knows this truth.

Aaron and I shared laughter, conversation, adventure, not a little stress, and an abundance of joy. Writing in the octave of Easter, when the risen Lord reveals himself to his disciples, not in the quelling of a tempest or in the brilliance of a transfiguration, but in everyday acts of friendship—breaking bread, eating grilled fish, and, doubtless, drinking red wine—I am feeling with a concentrated pain the loss of my dear friend with whom I bonded over so many of the simple joys of daily life and the worship of the Divine Author of those joys.

At our very first meeting, my desk was a mess of open books, a couple of pipes, tobacco shreds and ashes, and a bottle of (mostly consumed) Chianti. I blathered on about one thing or another: neo-, paleo-, politics, or something just as stupid and fleeting. When I at last shut up, Aaron, with his customary deliberation said, “Well . . . I’m seeing a lot of things on your desk that appeal to me: books, red wine, tobacco. I know I’m going to love working here.”

Indeed, he loved working at The Rockford Institute, and I loved working alongside him, at first in events and such, before Aaron went to where he really belonged, at Chronicles. At the magazine he revealed a superb prose style well-woven with wit and mirth—“Arius was the first Christian rock star”—and informed by an unfailing reverence for the truth, a reverence that never permitted him to pull a punch.

More than a decade before the world began its foolish measuring of success by counting Facebook followers and website page views, Aaron held forth at a John Randolph Club meeting on the dangers of “eSlavery,” an expression he coined. His Randolph tour de force occurred when, armed with a G. K. Chesterton essay and well-fueled from a spirited lunch at Chicago’s Russian Tea Time (his favorite whenever we were in the Windy City), Aaron explained how female suffrage has led women to make politics “much too important” and, worse, “to abandon creative control over the real stuff of life—hearth and home.”

One year, Tom Fleming, Scott Richert, Aaron, and I offered our myth-busting “Real American History” course to Rockford’s homeschoolers. Aaron’s first lecture began with Jonathan Edwards and proceeded to skewer the enthusiasms and heresies that informed our country’s religious revivals in the 18th and 19th centuries. Aaron had a manner of bursting balloons that was gentle and decisive. Who knew that It Came Upon a Midnight Clear was a peculiarly American admixture of Unitarianism and millennialism? Aaron did. But the coup de grâce came during the question and answer session, when one well-intentioned evangelical homeschooling mom in the back of the room timidly raised her hand, “I was always told that the First and Second Great Awakenings were good things…?”

“Well . . . ” Aaron paused with thoughtful deliberation. “I’m sorry that you’ve been lied to for all this time.”

Two decades ago, Aaron and I joined Tom and Srdja Trifkovic on our very first Convivium—a whirlwind tour of Lombardia. Aaron and I arrived a day early so we could visit the tomb of St. Augustine in Pavia, an hour south of Milan. All we knew was that he was buried there. We figured we’d get off the train armed with about 100 words of Italian between us and find no end of Pavians eager to guide us to their city’s most important tomb. After following well-meaning misdirections to a hospital, a prison, and a gelato stand, we at last found one of Pavia’s believers who took us to San Pietro in Ciel d’Oro. Kneeling before Augustine’s visible bones, we were interrupted by the sacristan. “Do you know who is in the crypt?” We followed his flashlight beam as he took us below to the grave of another giant of Late Antiquity, Boethius!

This trip was Rockford’s original “tour for independent-minded travelers.” What that really meant was that it was up to our guests to make their own way from Milan to Como to Monza to Bergamo to Mantova to Parma to Milan. Of the forty or so who joined us, some rented cars while others navigated the train. Aaron and I had a five-speed Fiat Punto, not much bigger than the two of us put together. It was on a Sunday that we searched in vain for our next hotel on a hilltop in Bergamo. The central street through the old town was closed for pedestrian traffic only. Moreover, it was senso unico, and we were headed the wrong way. Aaron deliberately and gently made his way through the astonished crowd, and by the time we found the little piazza in front of our hotel, the local cop with two-day’s growth of beard had found us. 

“Your papers!” he demanded. 

We tried mightily to suppress our laughter. We gave him our passports, and he began an impassioned harangue—“Maay-bee in Illinoiz they drive this way . . . ” At that moment, Srdja appeared, and with his perfect Italian quieted the indignant lawman. We each said a mea maxima culpa and the fellow moved along. Doubtless, other lost travelers have replaced us in his memory, but I’ve always felt I’d had the first half of a classic joke: A Catholic, a Lutheran, and an Orthodox man get pulled over by an Italian policeman….

Of course, Aaron’s a Catholic now—sorry, brother, had to get that in!—but I never doubted we were united in faith on this side of the veil. A year after our joint prayer to St. Augustine, we knelt together by the bones of St. Peter in the Vatican Necropolis. Would that I knew more Catholics who lived their love of Jesus Christ as obviously as Aaron did. I am confident he will intercede for me before the Divine Throne, and I look forward to one day sharing un’altra bottiglia di rossa della casa with my brother in Christ.                            

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