Requiem in Three:
For Leah, who should be alive & well, but isn't
You've never met me, and if you had, you wouldn't remember.
You are two.
You are two and your mother is dead.
You are two and your father is devastated.
You are two and so I pray that you won't remember any of these dark, dark days.
And yet, I pray that you will somehow remember your mother.
Is that possible, to remember her but forget this awful time?
I will pray that it might be,
Part of how you will remember your mother is through the tellings of others;
of those who knew her;
and loved her
and respected her;
those who sung with her and fought with her.
We will tell you what you need to know.
It is the least we can do.
it may be the most we can do.
I met your mother in Cantorial School.
She was one of my first friends in a very small and tight-knit class.
We were a diverse group. That's actually probably an understatement.
And before we all bonded together over shared experience,
and with no choice -
spending almost every day in the same small Israeli classroom -
in the early days, your mom was one of the only people I felt I could relate to.
We shared many of the same qualities:
We both had strong, sometimes overbearing personalities.
We could both be loud and boisterous.
We both loved to laugh.
We were both deeply feeling and very sensitive.
We both loved to sing and to teach and
we loved doing those things for others as much as for ourselves, if not more.
We could both sink into sadness like stones in a deep, dark pool.
We both struggled.
We struggled with similar challenges.
We struggled with unhappiness.
We struggled to live successfully despite unhappiness.
We struggled to trounce unhappiness into the dust and live happy and healthy lives
in defiance of ever having been unhappy or unhealthy.
In Israel that year, I was new to the struggle.
Your mother was one of the first people to help me name it, to help me accept it,
to help me cope.
She was compassionate and caring and understanding.
In those early years, it felt like we took turns -
sometimes I was struggling and she was holding me;
sometimes she was struggling and I was holding her.
But always we knew we were in the same battle together;
that no woman would be left behind.
And over time we found that the choices and people we needed to cope -
toward happiness -
took us in different directions.
We drifted apart.
Not for a lack of caring.
And if one of us took a turn, the other was there
regardless of time passed.
Six years we were students together,
and then, out in the real world,
real distances compounded the space that had already grown between us
and Facebook (do you still have Facebook in your time Sara?)
became a way for us to stay connected.
To share each other's triumphs and struggles from afar.
Facebook was the window through which I watched your mother
trounce unhappiness and LIVE.
She found a community she loved;
she found a man she loved and who loved her;
she had you - a daughter she loved immensely.
I didn't have to be in the same school or city or state or even country
to know all of those things,
she shared her love and her joy with the world
and we celebrated with her.
I saw your mom last in the summer of 2014
in Israel, where we had first met,
during a concert she was participating in.
We found each other in the aisles afterwards.
There were people streaming all around us and we were being jostled
so it was a short conversation.
But among the usual pleasantries,
the obvious catching-up questions,
I said to her:
I can see how happy you are Leah.
I am so happy that you are happy.
And she beamed.
She showed me your picture.
That face, beaming, is how I will remember her.
Sara, here is what you need to know:
Some people will tell you your mother's death was unjust - and it was -
but in her far too short life, your mother touched people.
She made a difference to the communities she led with her beautiful, sweet voice;
she made a difference to her family and friends;
she made a difference to me.
The things we learned from her, the songs we learned from her, the memories we have -
she lives on in all of those things; in all of those places.
But more than any of them,
she lives on in you.
Somewhere in you,
you have her strength, her resilience, her courage;
her laughter, her music, her love of the Jewish people.
You have her.
You will always have her.
And we will tell you the stories.
Whenever you want to hear them.
And together we will keep her memory alive,
as she shined in life.
I didn’t think I could forget
how grief can knock you right off your feet;
take the wind out of you;
slow you down so that you feel like you’re moving
But it’s fresh - like I never knew it
while being altogether far too familiar.
Not my grief, this,
but terribly reminiscent of
what it is to wake up next to the person that you love
the person you think you will spend your life with
and find them
I know what it is
to think you have found happiness
and then discover is has slipped through your fingers
like fine grains of slippery white sand
I would never wish such knowing on anyone
not my worst enemy
never mind a friend
or the husband of a friend.
It is not a thing you want to have in common.
It is not a thing that should happen
But it does
And when it does
only the people who hold you
make the difference between
coming back from the dark place you find yourself in
I hope the husband of my friend is being held
by strong arms
he will need to be held for some time
We have never met
but I am holding him from a distance
in my heart
It is the least I can do
for my friend.
I could always count on you to be angry
when things weren't going well.
How we loved to gripe together against the powers that be;
or the annoying classmate;
or the unfairness of life.
We fought together too,
against our shared illness.
You were one of them that taught me how to fight back
and then later
when you needed me too
I shared that lesson back with you.
We fought side-by-side
and sometimes one of us fought for the other
when the other lacked the strength.
It is rare to be soldiers together in life
against an enemy no one else can see.
Even when we drifted apart
I knew we were still fighting together.
I hope you did too.
So now I am angry.
I am so very angry because you are not here to be angry.
Because you would be so angry.
Because I know what kind of fighter you are
and I know how hard you fought to get to the happy life you were forced to leave
and I know how hard you would have fought, if you could have,
to stay with them.
The sources of your happiness.
I am angry that it doesn't seem to matter how hard you fought.
It is terrifying to think that my fight could come to nothing too;
That each of us could lose everything we have in an instant.
But I think,
if you were here,
you would tell me to keep fighting anyway.
We were not quitters then or now.
I will keep fighting.
I will know that you are still fighting with me.
Leah, as clergy we get to touch people's lives in special ways.
It is a bitter-sweet thing to read the tributes of the people who's lives you touched.
I am so sad for them that they've lost you
but I also know how much it must have meant for you to know
that you made a difference in other people's lives.
I hope you knew.
I hope you know now.
This is the only thing,
the only tiny silver lining.
It is not enough right now though I suspect over time it will have to be.
You made a difference.
You touched people.
You sang God into the world and into people's lives and hearts and prayers.
It is no small thing, this.
And you brought a child into the world!
You weren't here long enough but you left a long legacy.
You will live on in our hearts. In our songs. In your daughter's DNA.
You be remembered.
It is no small thing, this.
I am so sorry my friend.
You did not deserve this ending.
It is tragic and unjust and infuriating.
I am furious. You would be furious.
But we will fight back against the darkness,
against the anger, against the hopelessness.
Your legacy is what, in the end, will live on;
will outweigh whatever darkness there is.
And it will have to be enough.
It is more than enough.
I am alive because you taught me how to fight.
It is no small thing,