Thursday, March 18, 2010

a different kind of celebration

Although I don't have a bit of Irish in me, I have occasionally celebrated St. Patrick's Day in typical ways over the years. A couple of times, I spent the evening (and the wee hours of the morning) in a bar singing and laughing and drinking way too much. For several years, I accompanied my friend, Mary, to the annual parade in downtown Cleveland. I do love a parade, but it was just too cold to stand outside for several hours, even wearing so many layers I looked like the Michelin Man.

This year was different. The weather was beautiful, for one thing. The sky was a clear and cloudless blue all day long. The temperature hovered in the 50s, and for all I know, shot up to 60 in the afternoon. And I was at a celebration of a different kind yesterday. I was in a synagogue, celebrating a young life cut short. I went to Ali's funeral.

Janet and I drove down to Canton, and slipped into seats in the back of the sanctuary. We didn't talk to anyone there. We didn't know anyone there. We had only known Ali. We were there for Ali. I just wanted to occupy a seat there. I just wanted to be counted as someone whose life had been touched by her. We saw Ali's family seated in the front row, but only the backs of their heads as they listened to the rabbis and speakers talk about their beloved Ali. They hugged and wiped their eyes as they listened.

At the end of the service, they followed Ali's casket up the aisle. That was when I saw Ali's mother's face for the first time, and quickly looked away. To look into her face was to think the unthinkable. No, it was to know the unthinkable. My child could die before me. I had learned this lesson before - twelve years ago, almost to the day, when I attended Ava's funeral. Ava had been my kids' regular babysitter when I worked at the library. Her mother was my co-worker and good friend.

Ava was the light of her mother's life, as I'm sure Ali was. You wouldn't have known it to look at Ava, but she was sick most of her life. She was attending law school when she got sick again from too many nights spent studying instead of sleeping. She came home and was admitted to the hospital a few blocks up the street from the house where she grew up. She died there. So, yes, I thought of Ava yesterday. How could I not? Ava's life was too important to forget. So was Ali's. I believe I honor them both by remembering them and mentioning them here. I believe I celebrate their lives.

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