Editor’s Note: This is the 21st installment in Van Jackson’s daily writing journal, “Nuke Your Darlings,” which tracks his six-month battle to write a new book on North Korea. Will he meet his deadline?
I’ve been really messed up today. For months, a friend of mine was battling cancer and I got word of his passing this morning. He was an important thought-leader in the Washington national security community. He was also a role model for a new generation of Washington technocrats (including me) and was taken from this world far too soon.
We were kindred spirits when it came to policy and politics, and I owe so much of my career opportunities after the Pentagon to him. When I was looking for a think tank to transition to from the Pentagon after finishing my PhD, he sat me down and explained to me how it would all work and what would be expected. He lobbied for me to find a home at the Center for a New American Security and gave me a pathway to turn a one-year fellowship into a long-term research gig. He celebrated my first research grant when nobody else seemed to notice. He coached me in how to give testimony before Congress, which is a secret milestone in Beltway punditry. And I suspect he had a hand in my being offered that opportunity in the first place. He gave me insights about the capriciousness of becoming a future political appointee when I thought that was something I would want to do. And he was the last person I had coffee with in Washington before moving away.
I owe this man, even though I’m sure others incurred deeper debts than I did. I loved this man, even though I wasn’t as close to him as so many others in Washington. I feel a kind of pit-of-my-stomach grief at the injustice of his passing that makes me unable to fathom how people even closer to him are coping. I’m as angry as I am sad.
Life is precious and short. If we never know when our time is up, it’s imperative to make the most of the time we have. Feelings of mortality bring a greater sense of urgency to my work and even greater appreciation for my amazing family.
I was able to muster around 250 words today, mostly in the form of outlining the work to come for the current chapter, on North Korea policy during the Obama era.
Anyone who might want to contribute to an education fund for Shawn Brimley’s children can do so. I’m grateful our paths crossed for a brief time. My life is better and richer for it.
Van Jackson is a senior editor at War on the Rocks.