Sorrow and Joy


It’s been a joy to have known David Kangas. It is with sorrow that I learn he has died.

He was an exceptionally good Kierkegaard scholar, and read Melville’s late poetry, too. A student of his and good friend, Aaron Simmons, has written a moving tribute.

In 2012 when he first found out that he had Stage 4 cancer, [David] emailed his good friend Martin Kavka and said this:

“First off, ‘stage 4’ cancer, which is what I have, is by definition incurable. So treatments are a matter of buying time. How much time is, of course, unknowable by anyone. I’ll take whatever becomes available. . . . Existentially, I consider myself fortunate to have never believed the human condition was ‘curable’ (the professional opinion of a philosopher which I couldn’t resist telling the doc). Nor, thankfully, have I ever put much credence in the techno-pragmatic complexes of our culture, never having believed that the human condition was a ‘problem’ to which the proper techniques of management are to be found. Mind you, I WILL let the technicians do with me what they will and can! But in the end there is the unmanageable and we would be trivial beings without it.   So, onward with my day!”

Here, David puts into remarkable practice the key insight offered by Martin Luther in the following passage, which David used as an epigraph for his book, Kierkegaard’s Instant:

Whoever searches into the essences and actions of
creation rather than its groanings and expectations
is without doubt a fool and a blind man. (Martin Luther)

David was neither a fool nor a blind man. He was, quite simply, a human who understood that passion, faith, joy, need, desire, hope, and grief are all part of the fragility and beauty of existence itself.

I know that I will hug my son, Atticus, a bit tighter today, and tell my wife, Vanessa, that I love her a bit more intentionally. This, you see, is what Kierkegaard missed out on. This is what David put into practice every single day. He lived well. He died well.

I hope that we all, as fellow Kierkegaardians will appreciate not only his legacy, his influence, and his scholarship, but his life. May we all be able to say in the end there is the unmanageable and we would be trivial beings without it. So, onward with my day!


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