Who are we? Are we our bodies? Are we our minds? Are we a discrete and singular entity, bound to a specific time and place, or are we instead our legacy, the summation of all of our actions and the cumulative causal weight of our existence?
I prefer to think we are the latter, that the sum of who we are is not bound to the thoughts in our head or the face we see in the mirror, but can instead be fully perceived only in the aggregate effect we have had on others. There is some solace in that.
To use a cheap analogy, we are not just a skipped stone, we are instead both the stone AND the ripples in the pond, emanating from every spot the stone impacted the water.
This does, however mean that we can never truly be known, not fully. Not by somebody else, since our personal experiences are both private and ineffable, and not even by ourselves, since we can never really comprehend the full impact we have had on others.
This is not meant to be a lonely thought, or a depressing one, but is instead beautiful, because it means that who we are is never just one thing. It is instead a wonderful, mutable, conglomeration of the many permutations of cause and effect that have occurred due to our existence. If who we are is defined on a sliding scale between solipsism and sonder, and built from both the rich internal tapestry of our own consciousness as well as the countless unique versions of us that reside solely in other people’s minds, then we are truly infinite, which is immortality of a sort.
I lost a friend recently. Although my knowledge of him, limited as it was to our personal interactions and shared experiences, was really only a small piece of the entirety of his being, if you will let me, I would like to tell you about the man I knew. I would like to tell you about Chris Slater.
Slater was a man of vision. I met Slater in college, and he was, frankly, easily dissatisfied with the mundane, and constantly sought ways to elevate the experiences of himself and others into something special. This was, I believe, both a blessing and a curse, because when he was able to, he invariably made things better than they would have otherwise been, but when he couldn’t, he grew resentful and discontent.
He was brilliant, and creative, inventive, and resourceful. Chris saw what life at UCONN had to offer, and he said not good enough. He created an oasis with his tribe at Willi Oaks that took everything good about the college experience, and turned it up to eleven. It became, in no small part thanks to Chris’s charisma, vision, and sheer force of will, a truly magical place of mad invention, deep friendships, constant laughs, hedonistic excess, and personal growth, and I am forever grateful to have been able to experience it, even lurking as I did on the periphery as a frequent visitor instead of one of the resident savages.
While most of the specific stories I have from that era are wildly inappropriate to share in a public forum like this, just know that many of the funniest, best, most enduring memories I have of college involve Chris, and in that, I am in no way unique.
After college, I was lucky enough to keep in contact with Slater, and although the occasions where we spent time together were far too infrequent, when they did occur I always knew they would be memorable and special, because that is simply what Slates did. Nobody else fit the old adage “here for a good time, not a long time” quite as well as Chris, and the world is a lesser place without him. The effect he had on his friends and family can never be overstated, and he will be missed dearly. The stone may be gone, but the pond will keep rippling, for a long, long time.
Obituary of Christopher Lincoln Slater (cornellmemorial.com)