Nicholas Minard 1954-1975
NICHOLAS MINARD '76 died here Tuesday, an apparent suicide. In my thoughts I try to carry on with him much as before: I think about his disastrous encouragement of my Camel-cigarette chain smoking (he smoked Pall Malls as if they were about to be taken off the shelves); of the time we got thrown out of Cronin's for singing the Internationale too loud; of his clumsy but not ineffective basketball playing; and of the two books I have from him--one of which is the Essential Works of Socialism--both of which he constantly insisted he needed and neither of which I returned. Of course, the books will go unreturned now, but the thoughts about Nick will not fade--what he gave us is more lasting than the books, if not quite as tangible.
Nick Minard was a committed socialist. He didn't just sit over coffee at Adams House and identify with the proletariat by wearing work boots and a cloth cap. He worked almost every day of the past two years for people whom he'd never seen and never really knew. He helped lead the Boston area boycott of Farah so that clothing workers in Texas would be able to have a union, and not merely accept what Mister Farah wanted to give them; he picketed in the rain for the Harvard printers' union last spring, trying to remind the university that human beings create and run institutions, and not the other way around. Nick wrote leaflets about the miners' working conditions and pay, and passed them out in front of Lehman Hall, trying to get Harvard people to see why they were warm and comfortable, and why other people were poor and powerless.
He was decent and he understood other people's failings. (Sometimes he was too decent: he sold a copy of Michael Harrington's Socialism to my roommate; unfortunately, on credit). Last summer, Nick rented an apartment in Cambridge, from which he could commute to his job in a Boston Liquor factory. He proudly displayed his poster of Karl Marx on one of the apartment walls, and shortly afterwards invited the landlady--a nice, conservative, elderly woman--in for tea. Seeing the Marx poster, the woman asked Nick who the bearded, stern Victorian gentleman was. Nick was not fazed: he explained that it was a picture of "a German philosopher whom I admire very much." Minard was not afraid of admitting his political position; he just couldn't bring himself to break the gentle lady's conviction that he was a nice, proper young man.
Those were his values: socialism and common decency, the latter of which was a protection against any kind of cold barrier borne of sectarian fanaticism. Human beings were never means for him, politically or personally (as if one could separate the two); they were ends in themselves. His fervent belief in socialism was a faith in people. Nick always believed that he saw in people what Michael Harrington, one of his favorite authors, saw: the seed beneath the snow--in the midst of a grade-grubbing, money-chasing, selfish, banal society he saw individuals who wanted desperately to love, desperately to be accepted, and who wanted to cooperate in harmony, rather than grovel and cut throats in competition. And--perhaps more than he ever suspected--he had an effect on his friends. Maybe he really did help us see the seed beneath the snow, the seed within ourselves and the seed in others.
I remember one of Nick's favorite books from last year: E.M. Forster's Howard's End; it happened to be my favorite book at one point, and I can't remember now which of us influenced the other--although such an occurrence is not infrequent among friends. Now, Nick and I both knew that Forster was a "bourgeois" novelist, but still, Nick told me of crying at the plea that Forster puts in the mouth of the wise Meg--"only connect," she says--only connect your own sufferings, your longings as a person, to other people's. That was what Nick believed: that human beings' were all pretty much alike, and that they all had similar needs; and to be free they only had to recognize those needs, not be ashamed of them, and see them as true. Then we--all of us--could create a society and a world that reflected that truth. Minard's belief may sound simplistic, but I believed it then and I believe it now.
He and I often experienced books simultaneously. In addition to Forster, there was Ignazio Silone's Bread and Wine, the story of an Italian Communist resistance fighter who returns to fascist Italy disguised as a priest. Nick's father was a well-known Pittsburgh doctor; mine a Chicago criminal lawyer. The personal poignance of Pietro Spina, the rich young man who gives his life to the poor, and foregoes comfort because of his faith--not in God, but in his people--was so close to our hopes (I hope not illusions) about ourselves.
I guess a socialist in American must feel a lot like Spina did in the book: at one point, while an entire Italian town is rallying in support of Mussolini's attack on Africa, Spina paints on walls slogans like "Long Live the African People," "Down With Imperialism," and "Long Live the International." Silone makes clear that the townspeople wanted to murder the person who wrote those blasphemous things. America in 1975 is not yet fascist Italy, but Nick understood what it was like to uphold human decency while everyone else seemed to worship power, money and terror.
Nick Minard '76 died on Tuesday. He left his friends with unreturned books and memories of kindness, generosity and humanity. For those of us who knew him, the warmth of others takes on new meaning--an importance, a fullness, a real value and at the same time, a knowledge of the precariousness of friendship that makes it all the more valuable.
But Nick Minard left all of us something greater still, the values that his life embodied: those of socialism and decency, and a refusal to see injustice and respond to it idly standing by, or ignoring it, or insisting that it didn't exist. These values cannot die even in great despair and hopelessness. They are unconquerable. They are so much a part of each human being's deepest yearnings that they will endure.