As his father, I can attest to knowing Brad about as well as one could. From the moment he was born Brad was exceptional in the unexpected way in which he approached everything. While as a toddler he was given to throwing objects, as many toddlers do, but with the twist that he always gave fair warning. If you ever heard the words “One, two, three, boom” coming from the next room you knew some projectile was about to travel.
But as much as I knew him, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, Brad was a puzzle wrapped in a riddle, wrapped in an enigma. He was one complicated dude. He was a deep thinker who loved sophomoric comedy. He was as at home with Camus as Green Lantern comics, one with David Foster Wallace and Douglas Adams and Zoolander.
He appreciated music, art, and literature deeply. He was engaged in the lives of those with whom he was close and was inquisitive about the lives of others. He wrote poetry, sang, acted, read 1000 page tomes and was able to capture their essence and transmit that meaning to others..
He perceived things in ways that others don’t. Sometimes this was beautiful, sometimes challenging…
He could see in art not merely its beauty but he would study it to understand the artist and what that artist was thinking. He was intimate with Dali, Magritte, Henri Rousseau, David Hockney, Alexander Calder. He had no patience for Andy Warhol. But then there was Mark Rothko. He loved Rothko. He knew how far away from a Rothko painting was the appropriate distance and whenever we were in front of a Rothko, he assumed that position, holding his hands as blinders, so the piece would occupy the entirety of his field of vision, for over ten minutes.
Sometimes his desire to find precisely the right word or fully realize his insatiable quest for knowledge would get in the way and yet, simultaneously, take him places many of us haven’t been. Sometimes it was humorous, as when he would write poetry that required me to have a thesaurus by my side. I think I have a vocabulary somewhere above the median—but it was a tough slog. He said he needed exactly the precise word that could convey exactly the right thought —and by God—he was right. But I had to talk him down to use words readers could understand. Sometimes he provided an exigesis to explain the imagery and allusion. And it always was profound.
Sometimes his desire for precision was exemplary, as when he was working on a project about Egyptian hieroglyphics and religion. He actually taught himself hieroglyphics—seriously. And to get a book he wanted on Egyptian religion, he had to check it out from Brandeis University. Alas, Brandeis would only allow books to be removed by a professor or a practicing minister. Brad went online. Became an ordained minister of the Universal Life Church and quickly had the book in hand.
But his desire for perfection could take its toll, as when he was writing a paper that was to be six pages long and contain four citations. After three pages, he was up to 39 citations. It sounds humorous, but sometimes his desire to be perfect paralyzed him. Every class—every paper—was a burden. Every assignment, a challenge for perfection.
Bridges Academy, which Brad attended for a year of middle school, had a phrase that applies perfectly to Brad—twice exceptional.
On the one hand, he was exceptionally bright. But that intelligence could make him obsess.
On the one hand, he was remarkably sensitive. But that sensitivity led to overly self-critical analysis.
He was amazingly talented. But while he shined in the escape of performance, it was the real world, without a script, that was daunting.
Many of you have sat around the dining room table when our family dissects a book, a movie or an idea. These often would happen over Brad’s go-to food of choice, Tina’s tacos! Sometimes these arguments would get heated, at which point Brad would remark—particularly to Jake and me—that we were both being such dicks and to listen to one other.
One essay frequently discussed was the Myth of Sisyphus. I believe it embodies Brad. The Greek myth is the story of a man cursed to spend his days forever pushing a stone up a hill, only to find it roll back down on him. He was doomed never to make it to the top. The story was always thought tragic.
But Albert Camus, like Brad, viewed the plight of Sisyphus through a different lens. To Camus, Sisyphus was not unhappy. The top of the hill is not what living life was all about. To him, it was the very rolling of the stone that gave life purpose and meaning.
Camus really spoke to Brad and me. The meaning of life is not in the goal, but in the striving. When Brad was having a particularly difficult time, he wrote to me the following:
My life, in an appropriately Sisyphean way, seems to be a perpetual scale up an ever-growing dune where the summit always rises. As both the mound and I hike higher and my step backslides for every advance I make, my progress is rendered imperceptible like the ascension of an adjacent gondola appearing frozen—an illusory unmoving snapshot of relative rest- a pause hung in hushed silence- suspended by cable in its unrelenting climb towards the apex.
And that is Brad—moving forward, sometimes imperceptibly, sometimes slipping back down that hill.
We all have our mountain and we all have our stone. Some of us travel through life with a lower angle of ascent, with flat spots and respites in between. For Brad, the stone was large and the climb was great. That he was able to do it at all is a tribute to his courage.
Brad lived a self-taught, sometimes reclusive, life of the mind. He gave every book and every movie a chance. He is one of the very few people who say they finished infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace and ACTUALLY DID!
He left behind a trove of things he collected—yes, there were the pokemon cards and such…but most of his collectibles were deeper—a Dali elephant, a lamp made to look like the famous Magritte bowler, folk art obtained after careful review and analysis—some silly and some deep, but all with meaning. He surrounded himself with these constant reminders of beauty and art.
Over the past few years, Brad invited me along on his quest of knowledge. He explained deep science fiction to me; although I can’t today explain it to you. Brad took me on a journey of what he was reading, what he was thinking, how he thought the world worked, what each precious item in his treasure trove meant and why.
Our past year in LA together we spent one day most weekends sitting together quietly, just reading in the yard and playing with the dog. Talking about his progress; having him advise me on what I was up to, providing me business advice and life advice. I have felt he was most comfortable not as the player who got all the headlines, but the thoughtful old coach—with the old soul—helping others.
Then we would go for a walk and we would meet with Andrea, share a meal, tell a few jokes and stories, then return home to a movie or more reading and then off he went to be with his new friends. Our lives together were simple. He taught me to take a deep breath and enjoy not just the hike but the sights along the way.
I have been a lucky guy. I had the right parents. I married the love of my life. Andrea and I were able to raise three extraordinary children, each with amazing talent, intelligence, and most important, depth of character.
Now I feel like the unluckiest person in the world. The loss of this extraordinary mind, and talent, son, and, as the years went on, friend and companion—has left us heartbroken.
I can only find comfort in choosing to acknowledge the great good fortune that befell us all to be his brother and sister, his parents, his cousin, his aunts, uncles, grandparents, colleagues and friends. We are lucky for the nearly 22 years we had together and for the ways in which he interacted with and shaped us all. If there is something after this life, it is inhabited by great writers, great artists, musical theatre, a slower pace, and the love of family.
– Glenn Sonnenberg, father