October 27th marks one year since the passing of Dean Barnett. Dean and I were the same age (I’m actually 4 months older) and I felt a special connection with Dean when I first found his writing at Soxblog in 2004 (although that AWFUL white text on black background in the blog’s final iteration required some serious dedication to continued reading). Dean was funny. Smart. Clever. Silly. Serious. Profound. Irreverent. Bombastic. Humble. But mostly, grateful. Dean cherished life. Dean was a believer in good fortune, and luck. And with good reason.
As documented in his publication The Plucky, Smart Kid, With The Fatal Disease Dean suffered from Cystic Fibrosis. A disease that in 1967 was akin to a death sentence, with a life expectancy that forecast that he might make it to his teens. A miracle might push him into his twenties.
But then, as it often would, Dean’s good luck prevailed. Due to the discoveries of nutritionists of the era, he was able to eat and gain weight in his early years, which at the time was uncommon. Thanks to the diligence of his family, he remained rather healthy growing up, with just a few occasional setbacks and signs of the disease. And it did take a tremendous effort from his parents to keep him that way. An effort that he was tremendously grateful for later.
His first significant brush with CF was in High School. Then he had some real issues with CF at Harvard, and later at Boston University Law School. But Dean was exceeding what had been expected of CF sufferers: a very young demise.
In his later years, Dean got very sick. For long periods. He had battled CF successfully for so long, he had come to think that he could overcome it, or at least minimize it. He ended up on the Lung Transplant list, which, to someone with CF, means you only have a modicum of time left.
Then a small miracle: Dean heard about a new treatment that was undergoing trials: A saline inhalation treatment was showing promise in Australia. Basically, the patient would breath salt water. Dean was approved to test the treatment, and while not a cure, it restored a good portion of his lung capacity. He came off the transplant list. He’d beaten the odds yet again. The daily saline treatment, in conjunction with an incalculable amount of daily medications, and hours per day in “the Vest” (which palpated his lungs in an effort to break up congestion and keep his air ways clear to prevent infection) enabled Dean to push on.
That was in 2006. He had a few more serious bouts following that, but he bounced back from those. He became a guest host on the Hugh Hewitt Radio show. It was always charming to hear that thick as mud Boston accent on the air.
Dean became a staff writer for the Weekly Standard, where his writing talents could be widely seen and recognized.
In early October 2008, Dean was admitted to the hospital with an infection. He never recovered, and we lost his shining light on October 27th 2008.
I never actually spoke to Dean. A few e-mails back and forth, some insights and jokes shared, but that was the extent of our communication. However, that was all you needed from Dean to know that you had just made a rather valuable friend.
Dean learned what most of us never come to know: Life is precious. It is to be lived and valued. Dean called it both luck, and effort. He lived on borrowed time. He made it to 41 years of age, when most expected him to be gone as a teenager. He made the utmost of the time he had. Speaking of the disease that stalked him, and of death in particular, Dean wrote:
As I grew sicker, I had what for me was an extremely comforting insight. I came to view serious and progressive illness as an ever constricting circle with oneself at the center. The interior of the circle represents the contents of one’s life. As the circle gets smaller, things that were inside get forced out. Some of these things are dearly missed; others that were once thought precious get forced to the exterior and turn out to go surprisingly unlamented.
At the innermost point of the circle are the things that really matter: family, faith, love. These things stay with you until the day you die. At the very end, because the circle has shrunk down to its center, they’re all you have left. But as we approach that end, we finally realize that all along, they were what mattered most. As a consequence, life often remains beautiful and worthwhile right up until the end.
Dean’s courage and quiet grace are an inspiration to all.
We miss you Chowdah!
Rest well Dean.