Alumni Letter from Roberto Michael (CLA ’58)
March 4, 2007
By Roberto Michael
Philosophy means everything to me. It was embodied by the Department at Boston University and taught to me by teachers who are still with me in spirit–John Lavely, Richard Millard, and, especially, Peter Bertocci.
Whenever things got tough for me, I depended on the guidance of the principles learned in the Philosophy Department, though faculty members themselves sometimes had to remind me. When I served in the U.S. Army 1958-61, posted to the Pentagon and then to an missile unit in Bitburg, Germany, I was having a devil of a time with authority (I was a PFC) until Millard replied to my letter: “Nur kein Schwitz das Kleinzeug. Don’t sweat the small stuff.”
When I was a Woodrow Wilson Fellow at Columbia, a professor asked me, “What does Kierkegaard intend by this statement in Sickness unto Death? ‘Spirit is the self, and the self is a relation that relates itself to itself or is the relation’s relating itself to itself in the relation. The self is not the relation but is the relation’s relating itself to itself.’” I headed toward the door, quipping, “This material sickens me unto death.” Lavely wrote back to my recounting of the story, “I suppose this was what Kierkegaard was aiming at.”
Bertocci was, well, Bertocci. My first semester at BU was highlighted by his Problems in Philosophy class. He became my almus pater. His theory on a limited God was that “God tries to do the right thing but sometimes fails. God has faults. He’s flawed, like human beings.”
When I tried to explain this to my Orthodox-Jewish, Yiddish-speaking mother, she replied, “Did Big Mister College Professor think up all this farkuckta nonsense by himself?” After I told Bertocci, he laughed himself silly.
Whenever I enter a classroom to teach or sit to research or write, Bertocci stands by my side, his voice stirs my spirit, his principles inhabit my heart: creative insecurity, the search for truth, humanism, caritas, endeavor. When I wrote to thank him, he replied: “I’ve received appreciation letters from former students before, but never before have I been as touched as I have by yours. I’m so pleased and proud that I’ve had a hand in your life.” Although Bertocci is now long dead, I’m convinced that he’s still challenging those around him to be the wisest, the justest, and the best they can be.
Blessings and Shalom,
A.B. Boston University 1958 with Distinction in Philosophy; Phi Beta Kappa; Magna cum Laude; Professor Emeritus of European History, University of Massachusetts Dartmouth; Graduate Faculty, Florida Gulf Coast University. Author of Holy Hatred: Christianity, Antisemitism, and the Holocaust; A Dictionary of Antisemitism; A Concise History of American Antisemitism; The Holocaust: A Chronology and Documentary; Nazi-Deutsch/Nazi-German: An English Lexicon of the Language of the Third Reich; The Dark Side of the Church: A History of Catholic Antisemitism; and the novel, Yankee Jewboy.