Redd Griffin: gone too soon

Opinion: Columns

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By John Hubbuch

I wish I had known Redd Griffin sooner. Redd died suddenly of a heart attack on Nov. 20. I will leave it to others who knew Redd much longer than I to remember for us the many, many contributions he made to his country, community, friends and family.

But I would note: Redd is the only person I know who chatted up Frank Lloyd Wright and attended an exorcism.

He was my philosophy teacher at Triton College, where he taught a class called "The Great Philosophers" three times a year. In explaining the course, Redd described it as a kind of hybrid between academic and personal philosophy. He loved the Greek philosophers, especially Plato. To my mind we spent a little too much time on the Platonic cave allegory, but then I'm more about breadth than depth when it comes to knowledge.

Our class is mainly older people. Most of us are retired, and if we had children, they're grown. Most of us signed up for the class and kept coming back because we now have the time and life experience to begin to reflect on what it all meant and would mean. We had begun to confront that time when we think a little bit about the end of our stories. Redd was helping us along on our respective paths.

I was looking forward to exploring in greater detail the question of life's end with the help of philosophy, but my philosophy teacher died. It doesn't seem right.

Although I never talked to Redd specifically about death, I think I may have some inkling about what he thought. He and I frequently discussed one of philosophy's major divides: the one and the many. I am a believer in the many. To my mind there is no single truth or path. We each choose our way.

Redd believed in the one — not necessarily the Christian God and Christ, but that there was something larger than any one of us that flows both back into the past and into the future and brings us together. I have heard Redd described as a "Christian mystic." When I first heard that description of him, it seemed weird, but over these last short months I came to understand the accuracy of the description. He had a coherent, vibrant personal philosophy, which he lived every day. He was our village's Socrates, asking questions, probing for a greater truth. He asked us to examine our own beliefs and challenged us to do better. He made a difference in my life, and I only knew him for such a brief time.

I suppose when a 73-year-old man dies, it's not tragic, but it is very sad. Every time some good person dies earlier than he should or suffers from some random disease, it makes me angry.

If this God we're so fond of is omniscient and omnipotent, then why does he let these calamities befall the people I care about? The response that it's part of God's plan is not very satisfying. I wish I could have discussed this with my philosophy teacher before he died so suddenly. I'm not sure what Redd would have said, but I think he would have said there is a Truth based in our shared humanity, and that it was the highest order to find that Truth, or at least search for it.

So I guess I'll continue the search even though I'm not sure I'll find anything.

I just wish Redd Griffin were here to help me.

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