Between Faith and Rationality

Between Faith and Rationality, Part II

10 years ago today, probably right around the same time I’m sitting down to write this post, my good friend Bill Railey died alone in his apartment on 8th Avenue above the Molly Wee Pub in NYC.

He lived a hard drinking, hard smoking, hard partying life, and when he found out he had late stage, inevitably terminal lung cancer, he never whined about it, never cried foul.

I have a bottle of single malt Irish whiskey that I bought for Bill on his last birthday, but he couldn’t drink at that point, so I saved it. Every year, on New Year’s Eve, I have a shot for Bill and repeat the toast I heard him make in his gravelly voice, more times than I care to remember: “To happiness, whatever it takes.”

He was as unsentimental as they come, never suffered fools, and wasn’t afraid to fight for what he believed in. He was an anarchist, a Randian, a biker, a philosopher, an animator and above all else, an artist.

And he had more faith than almost anyone I’ve ever known.

Not the kind of faith people vest in unseen creators, powerful institutions, the legal system or governments. No, Bill Railey’s faith was in himself, in the abilities of individuals, in the things we do rather than the things we say.

His faith was sorely tested. He took part in more than his share of battles, in courtrooms against better funded enemies, ex-wives, and even the mighty Disney machine.

But he never gave up. Even while he was losing his last, toughest battle, he never gave up and he never lost faith in himself.

At the time of his death, Bill and I were collaborating on two projects. One was an animated series about a female vigilante serial killer that was in its infancy. The other was called Thinking Meat, which he described as “the world’s only animated program recorded before a live studio audience” and had originally conceived with Sally Franz.

We actually posted two episodes, “Cosby on Def Jam” and “The Zoo” to iFilm. They were a little raunchy, a little offensive, and very funny. In other words, they would have killed on YouTube today. Unfortunately, this was 5 years before YouTube… and just a few months before Bill died.

At a time when many people turn to religion, even people who never believed before, Bill never resorted to mysticism or superstition. He faced his end rationally, with his eyes open wide and no regret for the choices he made.

I was fortunate to know Bill, and perhaps, weird as it sounds, lucky that his inevitable end came on New Year’s Eve. Because each year during that time when the whole world makes resolutions, as I take that shot of whiskey from the dwindling remains of that last bottle, I remember my friend, and repeat his toast, “To happiness, whatever it takes.”

I become inspired to live my next year the way Bill lived his life: rationally, with faith in myself. To do whatever it takes (within my own code of morality, of course), to live my life so that when it ends, I can own my choices, and recognize my steps as my own.

Can someone please explain to me why anyone would want to live life any other way?