Named not in hubris but in honor and memory of Austin M. Wright, who taught me critical thinking, and his teacher, Wayne Booth, who coined the phrase.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Debbie Friedman: A Tapestry of Memories

If you have traveled to Italy or fantasized about traveling to Italy, you picture sunshine, fields of sunflowers, a lazy lunch in the shade of a leafy pergola with a glass of wine, a plate of pasta, and a bunch of lavender on your table.

If you have spent winter in Northern Italy, however, the picture in your mind’s eye is foggy.  It is raining hard, or misting.  Your shoes are wet and the cuffs of your pants are wet.  Your umbrella is dripping all over you and the person next to you.  You are cold, chilled to the bone; your toes and fingers are freezing, no matter what you do.

We have now endured seven consecutive cold rainy days. They do not offer a hope of a green spring (though that is their inevitable result). We work around them, running our errands and visiting friends and going to museums, but they make it hard to get up in the morning.

Especially the last few days, when the illness and then death of Debbie Friedman and the shootings in Arizona surround us like the fog and the chilling rain. 

I cannot say I grew up with Debbie Friedman, but I certainly grew into Reform Judaism with her.  I cannot claim friendship or even a personal acquaintance, but she and her music meant so much to me.  She represented the openness of Reform Judaism to new ways of praying and exploring and understanding how people relate to one another and to God.  I grew up in Orthodox and Conservative synagogues, and I never attended a Jewish camp until I worked at one when I was in graduate school.  I was an instant convert. 

Eventually, I married a man who had known Debbie from early days at Olin-Sang-Ruby Camp; many years later, I envied our son, who took a class with her when he was a rabbinical student at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. 

Up close, I was in wonder at her humility; awed by her sensitivity and vitality; worried about her delicate condition.  From afar, she filled a room, controlled a hall, kept us holding our breaths and singing at the top of our voices.  I often thought in those moments that I could understand what it felt like to encounter Hildegard of Bingen or Joan of Arc.  She would have laughed.

The eulogies at her funeral emphasized all those human qualities.  The overriding metaphor was the tapestry of memory.  Debbie wove that tapestry, and we are all threads.  And even as we are threads, we all have our own tapestries of memories.  For some, Debbie herself is a part of those memories; for others, it is her music that makes the cloth.

1 comment:

  1. Sherry, what a beautiful tribute. May she travel the next road smoothly...