USA Today - Monday, 9/20/99
A link between life and death - Sage of the Sea "eulogized" on Web
-By Elizabeth Weise, USA TODAY
Alan Baskin makes people believe in miracles. Not only the miracle of life but the miracle of simple words on a screen that are now touching tens of thousands more.
Baskin, 70, is dying of pancreatic cancer in Miami. But he's living, vitally, every day, something he has clearly been doing for a long time. You know that because a longtime friend of his has put up a eulogy Web site, where Baskin can read what people say about him before he's "in the box," as he puts it.
"This is really a blessing, to be able to share this kind of stuff with friends all over," says the man known in scuba diving circles as the "Sage of the Sea."
The site, www.alanbaskin.net, now has scores of deeply moving messages from those whose lives Baskin touched in his 30 years as an instructor at his Baskin in the Sun school in the Caribbean.
"Your disdain for self pity and your zest for the great adventure ahead perhaps have played a greater part in all of our lives than you shall ever know. You have given us an example to live - and to die - by," says TV legend Walter Chronkite, a friend.
" I really had no idea that I had affected this many lives," says Baskin, who opted against treatment. But "you pick up a certain amount of wisdom after dealing with 40 years of people in their bathing suits - they're not the doctor, the lawyer of whatever they are normally. They're just people."
The Net has been used as a kind of pre-death wake before. "It lets people communicate right down to the wire," says Gail Williams of the on-line community The Well, where several members' deaths have been chronicled. Psychedelic guru Timothy Leary also kept a Web diary as he was dying in 1996.
The messages to Baskin speak of his gift to those who dived with him: entry into a weightless, beautiful underwater environment and into "the exquisite moment of right now."
From all accounts (even to a spirited phone call with a reporter from what is supposed to be his deathbed), Baskin has the Zen-like ability to live truly in the present.
"So many people had things to be said to him. Eva (Baskin's wife) read me some of the cards, and I though this should be on the Web," says Nick Griffin, who created the site a few weeks ago. "It's as much for Alan as for the rest of us."
"He has a saying I treasure: 'The past is history, the future is mystery. Now is a gift. That's why they call it the present,' " says his daughter, Roberta Baskin, a CBS news correspondent.
Alan Baskin views life as an ongoing miracle. Such miracles are "coming every two hours right now," he says from his bed, where his wife and partner of 25 years reads to him as Web messages are posted from friends, celebrities including George Plimpton, and now even strangers.
The miracles do abound. He always said he had four children "that I know of"-Robin, Lisa, Michael and Christopher. In 1986, he got a call from Roberta Baskin, now 47.
"That's a familiar name," he said, "I wonder if we're related."
"We are," she replied. "I'm your daughter."
"My next question was, 'Who's your mother?' " Baskin says. It was a woman he'd been with more than 30 years before.
She got pregnant, they were planning to marry, then she had a miscarriage. "I took her to the hospital," he recalls. Soon after, with the Korean War on, he was called into the Air Force.
"I wrote but never heard anything back," he says. "So I said, 'Roberta, your mother had a miscarriage.'"
"She did," Roberta told him. "She was carrying twins."