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My Visit to the Ayn Rand Institute

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After several failed attempts to avoid it, I had a falling out with Ayn Rand, my mentor, the great philosopher and author of Objectivism; and our communication ended. Even while I disagreed with her on the role of spirituality and that of government, I credit Rand with helping to inspire me in my work to teach entrepreneurship. Soon after she wrote her last letter to me -- she told me never to contact her again -- she died. That's when she broke my heart.

For decades afterwards, I dreamt of her, what happened between us, and our last visit when I lost my coat. In these dreams, I always looked for it; and many times I fantasized about a letter like this falling out of my pocket:

Dearest Steve,

Just a quick note to apologize to you for my letter. I certainly did not mean the words that I wrote and I hope that you will come to see me again soon.

Can you bring the bracelet you gave me back, as well? I would love to see you again soon. I am always on your team.

Warmest regards,

Ayn

This was, of course, nothing more than a fantasy -- Rand would never write a letter like that, but I held out hope anyway.

I had this dynamic -- and these memories -- on my mind as I drove out to Irvine, California. I was headed there in order to take a private tour of the Ayn Rand Institute. My dear friend Yaron Brook was the director there, and I couldn't wait to see him and the Institute's treasures.

The Institute was on the second floor of the Van Karman Center. Our tour was planned for eleven in the morning -- it was me, along with our longtime board member and dedicated supporter Mary Myers, the director of NFTE Greater LA, Estelle Reyes, Nadia Shahin, our program manager, and NFTE Alum Cody Chang. As we entered the reception area, I could see on our right a wonderful bust of Ayn. Angela, Yaron's assistant, came out -- she was beautiful and vivacious. She made us feel welcomed, at home: "Yaron has to leave soon, so he will not be able to do lunch." She led us into his office where dozens of books were stacked and immediately I noticed one in particular, a copy of Atlas Shrugged in Hebrew.

"Yaron reads that all the time," said Angela.

We went out of the office through a side door that led to a boardroom set for eight. I knew we were in for fun when Yaron arrived, as always, perfectly dressed -- looking like he stepped off the pages of a magazine. He reminded me of a young Paul Newman, and when he spoke he instantly gave away his Israeli roots.

Yaron and I had become friends at a conference where I was struck by his intelligence and charisma. Yaron had read Rand's work at age 16 and became interested in her life and philosophy. As a young Israeli soldier, he was working in an Israeli Army officer's camp, ironing his clothes, when he learned the news that Ayn Rand had died on March 6th, 1982. Later, in the US, Yaron got his Ph.D. in finance in Texas and, after seven-year tenure as a professor, became president of the Ayn Rand Institute. A perfect leader in this position, he grew the Institute from humble beginnings to the great repository it is today: the Institute's mission is to preserve and promote Ayn's writings and theories.

Yaron and I compared notes on historical items and he took me to school on several fine points of Objectivist philosophy, including my misinterpretation of the relationship of Existentialism to Objectivism. He knows his stuff and, as always, was insurmountable on these topics.

We got up from the table and the six of us made our way into the museum, a long room with many pictures of Ayn on the wall -- both young and old. I saw the table where she wrote Atlas Shrugged and Fountainhead, but my memory was mistaken. It wasn't the slanted drafting table but a flat surface. I recognized and remembered the markings on it. I stepped closer and ran my hand along the indentations where she had written her precious books.

Our guide Jeff Britting, who wrote an incredible book on Rand, asked me not to touch these artifacts. I apologized. We walked around the room, viewing items with feat historical significance: for example, we saw a handwritten page of Atlas Shrugged. I was eager to see the famous 50 pages from Fountainhead -- those that Ayn had removed at the last minute, which supposedly described more background on Howard Roark and his affairs before meeting Dominique.

I enjoyed the pictures, notes, and various artifacts from her personal collection. Walking into the next room, my heart stopped when I saw the nude painting of a young Ayn -- one that I had fallen in love with almost 25 years before. She was seated on her knees with her hands behind her back. I gasped and walked towards it. The archivist reminded me of something I had forgotten: "That painting is not of Ayn, Steve." I remembered that it was actually a painting by Capuleti, which she had purchased sometime in the 1960s or 1970s. Rand never lied, but she had implied that it was her young self. I had thought a woman as beautiful as her could never be captured. Seeing this gave me hope that my coat would be in the next room.