Chris Henrichsen was my friend. I met him online, years ago, as a participant on Russell Arben Fox‘s “Fox and Friends” (heh) email list, where we still banter Big Ideas uselessly back and forth. He left the list years ago and established his own place, Approaching Justice, where he invited me to write. It’s a standing regret of mine that I couldn’t be active there.
Like many on that list, Chris and I shared the experience of Brigham Young University. We each had mixed results from the experience, but he went on to teach at one of those campuses and his experiences were more spectacular and vivid than mine. He went on to teach in public schools at about the same time that I began serving on a public school board. We occasionally exchanged online thoughts about the work of education. Unlike many I never seemed to trigger his complex combativeness or rejection of others.
Like him, I have campaigned for public office in personally difficult and divisive contexts. I have lost and won. Like him, the experience changed the way I see and interact with the world around me. His experiences were more spectacular, more vivid than mine. More unforgettable. More costly. He willingly bore costs I cannot imagine paying, almost like the legend of Luther before the council, standing his ground, unwilling to move from a stance of social justice.
He was not always compassionate, but he always seemed to return to a place of compassion. Chris introduced me to the broad claims of John Rawls, supplying me a framework for “social justice” that has informed and focused my work in that sphere. He taught me to give freely to others whenever I had means and whenever they asked. Because of what he taught I have attempted to have the means for those encounters. I attest that intending to give, the way he introduced it, has improved and enriched my life and my relationships with everyone.
He most clearly loved his family above every other priority. That showed in his social media descriptions of them, in the photos and other ways he presented them to the online world, always with devotion, compassion, and love. His pride and pleasure in their work and accomplishments were all I ever saw.
In 2016 we sat down together in a midscale Las Vegas restaurant to talk, for the first and only time we were able to do this. He had crossed town and I had the sense that he’d gone out of his way, cancelling other things to sit with me. We spoke as friends with some of those common experiences. He listened to me with compassion, comradery, and grace. He offered time and talent to help me. He gave advice so naturally that what he said became the only thing possible. I don’t remember the details, but I do remember the friendship. We talked politics, children, coping skills, education, teaching, learning. Compassionate justice.
I’ll always remember that compassion. My world is better because I knew him. I’m so sorry he’s gone.