or: The Secret Life of Walter (Witty)*
Contribute your own thoughts or read what others have said.
Walter led a life as adventurous and often mysterious as his books. We welcome your comments on both here.
Be sure to click through the links at right to read the extraordinary memories and deep appreciation that his many friends and fans have posted to date.
* Thanks to Jean Heller for sharing this brilliant headline to her article describing Walter’s “Trailer Trash” book tour.
I think it was in Hum.110 that I first encountered the unforgettable Walt. Thru the years, I’ve thought of him often. To say that he was striking is an understatement, but after Reed, our paths never crossed again. I’m going to try and make some amends by doing some Walt-reading. I’m both floored and not surprised to have learned last year, that he was a lifelong Buddhist. He seemed to have “living in the now” down pat even before knowing a thing about that philosophy.
This is my most vivid memory of him. Walt was a bit older than my peers in college, he was obviously already a worldly man, while the rest of us struggled to appear as Camusian as possible. At any rate, he told me that before college, in one of his incarnations, he was a very succesfull door-to-door encyclopedia salesman. I don’t know why, but that just impressed the hell out of me. At the risk of sounding glib, like an encyclopedia, in his way, Walt encompassed the world.
Since this site will serve as a basis for a profile of Walter in the Reed Magazine, I will post here a couple of things he said to me about being a Buddhist. The last quote will be familiar to those who followed Walter’s posts on his Go Fund Me page. In one of those post, Walter wrote about what he called the “small Satori”* that freed him from his dis-ease about his life ending. His words are pasted below exactly as they appear on the site.
But first, here is what I remember Walter telling me about his becoming and being a Buddhist. Walter graded himself a good Buddhist, although not a great Buddhist. He did not expound on this point, but I understood that he was satisfied with the manner in which he kept the faith and in which the faith kept him.
He told me (in 2020) that he had been a Buddhist for 35 years then described his early efforts to adopt Buddhist practices. If I recall correctly, he said he had great difficulty in the beginning. He might even have said he was bored, but he kept at it. One day as he was meditating, he heard a distinct voice – one so vivid that he was shocked and frightened by it as he was alone and did not speak the words he heard. Those words were, as best as I can recall them, “Desire but do not anticipate.” I cannot remember if there was an explicit imperative such as, “You must desire but you must not anticipate,” but my sense was and is that he took the words to be those by which he was to live – as he seemingly did for the last 35 years of his life. Very near the end of his days, Walter wrote the words quoted below.
“The idea of dying has been bothering me all along. I didn’t want to miss the rest of the party. But two days ago, I was driven to my cardiologist. The wheelchair was lashed down along a metal strip running along the center of the van/ambulance, so I could see past the right side of the driver’s head and out the front windshield. We were going down a small hill and I could see, at the bottom, two directional arrows painted on the asphalt. They were soaking wet because rain was pouring from the black sky.
“One arrow pointed straight ahead, the other pointed to the right.
“Most of you know that I’m a Buddhist. For 35 years I’ve been studying
and meditating. What happened next was a fairly Buddhist moment.
“The thought suddenly came to me: ‘We all follow arrows.’
“And abruptly the stuff that had been weighing me down just disappeared.
And I smiled. I’ve been smiling off and on, every day since.”
* Walter’s use of the words “small satori” triggered a memory of my reading a mystery with that phrase in the title. I said as much to Walter and together we worked out that the book I remembered was “Inspector Saito’s Small Satori” by Janwillem van de Wetering. It wasn’t that easy for me to let Walter know what I meant because I could not properly pronounce the writer’s name. Walter finally had me spell what I was trying say and recognized the reference I was making. He was delighted to remember van de Wetering and to tell me about their friendship. (He said he had forgotten that van de Wetering has used the phrase “small satori” in the title of one of his books.)
Walter told me stories about knowing (and, of course, having lunch with) fellow Buddhist mystery writer van de Wetering and van de Wetering’s wife. He didn’t say where he encountered them, but between Walter’s and van de Wetering’s lifestyles, it literally could have been anywhere in the world. Walter told me enough stories about the van de Weterings to suggest that he had several encounters with them.
As to the lunch, Walter said he delighted van de Wetering by paying for their meal. This, apparently, was outside of van de Wetering’s typical experience. As a successful writer, van de Wetering apparently was expected to treat his fellow diners. Walter, by paying, once again went completely against the norm.
Thank you Pat for this commentary, and even more for your thoughtful note on Robert Wollheim ’70 in the recent Reed Magazine.