My friend Dennis Lane was tragically killed on Friday.
He’s the guy in the middle above. He was always in the middle. Of everything. The further apart the opposite sides, the more he enjoyed standing between them, holding court and cracking wise.
Dennis loved Howard County more than just about anyone. He grew up here, went away for college and work, but he came back. This is his home, forever.
There is an inherent quality in people, like Dennis, who care deeply about community—a desire to find that which connects us. Community is, after all, just a series of connections, and Dennis connected with just about everyone he met (a few notable exceptions aside). Wherever Dennis went, he seemed to build a community along the way. We’re fortunate to have his legacy live on in these connections. And in his writing.
Dennis was a writer who sold real estate on the side. Even before becoming a blogger, Dennis wrote about Howard County. But he didn’t often write to persuade or promote, though he wasn’t afraid to agitate. Dennis loved telling stories. And he had great ones about growing up and the early days of Columbia, about working with Jim Rouse, about real estate, communities, politics, family, dogs, weather, or whatever else he would stumble upon in his journeys. Through these stories, he found meaning in the mundane, added color and context to the topics of the day, and brought memories to life.
His blog is a biography of Howard County from October 13, 2006 to May 9, 2013. That’s almost seven years of people, places, humor, and history chronicled by a remarkable man with a distinctive voice. We were lucky to have him in our lives, and we’re lucky his words remain. I re-read a lot of those old posts Friday night until it became too much.
A lot of people have written wonderful things about Dennis, all of it indicative of how meaningful his life was. In the midst of this sorrow, their eloquent and moving words feel almost effortless. For me, writing now is like building a stone wall—the strain only grows as I struggle to stack one word atop the next. I’m afraid a crooked wall is the best I’ll make.
But it is truly a labor of love. I want to tell Dennis how important he was to me, how much I learned from him, and how much I enjoyed being in his company.
I’m not a particularly spiritual man, but I believe these words will find their way to him. Just as I believe he’s laughing his way through a monologue before a captivated crowd. Or walking with his old dogs along a river.
Dennis and I shared a lot of common interests. Perhaps the geekiest was our love of weather. There’s a common trait among folks like us: acceptance. The weather will do what it’s going to do and there’s not a damn thing we can do about it.
Dennis always knew which way the wind was blowing. If it was at his back, that was great, and if it was blowing in his face, well that was just fine too.
I remember talking to Dennis last fall at some event. There were always events, and Dennis was always at them. He gave me shit about not blogging anymore, a not-infrequent topic of conversation between us. I told him I would be blogging again within a year. “Book it.”
Back then, I thought I’d start blogging at work. That opportunity never came, but another did, so I took a new job. And again, there was no room for blogging.
In the meantime, I wrote press releases. And website copy. And email newsletters. And tweets. And calls to action. This writing is often formulaic, encumbered by structures, voices, ideas, and approvals other than mine. Dennis rarely had constraints on his writing, and as much as I’d try to give my words the same life that his had, it was always the wrong medium.
Although he never said it directly, I think Dennis pushed me on this because he saw someone like him—a writer and storyteller—constrained by professional and personal obligations but still aching to express, to engage, and, hopefully, to enlighten.
He once said I helped inspire him to start writing his blog. Well, it’s time to return the favor. This may be the first, but it won’t be the last.
Dennis, it was a privilege to know you, to read your writing, and to be considered among your many friends. I miss you terribly.
Here’s some Rolling Stones for you.