This afternoon, my friend Gail sent me a link to Maya Angelou’s When Great Trees Fall. With the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we have all lost a “great soul” whose presence on this earth made a difference to millions. But there are other great souls who live less public lives. And because they touched our lives, “We can be. Be and be better. For they existed.”
by Ruth Neuwald Falcon, Seattle, Washington
Like many of you, I have all kinds of “friends” on Facebook. Some are people I worked with forty years ago. There’s one woman I knew from grade school. There are those who move in the same virtual circles and, at some point, one or the other of us issued a friend invite. I rarely see the posts of most of my “friends,” because of the serendipity of who Facebook selects to appear in my feed.
When I started this blog, I wasn’t sure how it was going to come together. I asked my friends to share their thoughts. I scrolled through that arbitrary Facebook feed. Mid-March, I came across a post from a “friend” named Suzanne Brita Schecker that began: I’ve been up for three hours and am still in my PJ’s. It went on to talk about being fine but not fine, about her “sensing of a subtle, still unclear message for us.” It ended with, “In between waves of existential angst, I am grateful.”
I wrote and asked for permission to use her post. That was the beginning of an actual friendship, one that turned into a professional relationship as well. Starting on the first Tuesday in June, we began to meet weekly to work on her memoir; discussing what she had written the previous week and what direction the next week’s writing would take.
We learned early on that we shared some significant things. Our lives had been deeply impacted by the Holocaust: she as a non-Jewish German born during the war, in a town that was firebombed (a practice run for Dresden) two weeks after her birth; me as the daughter of a German Jewish woman who managed to escape in 1939 but was unable to rescue her parents. We carried oddly similar feelings of responsibility and guilt. We had both had bouts with breast cancer—and Suzanne had battled through two more cancers—so knew what it meant to walk through that one-way door. There were so many things we understood about each other without needing any words of explanation.
Suzanne died this week, one day before RBG. Despite all the medical issues she was still struggling with, it appeared that she was doing well. When we spoke on Tuesday (me in my Springsteen t-shirt, in honor of our shared appreciation for The Boss), she looked better than she had in some weeks and had just taken on a new psychotherapy client (“I don’t really have time,” she said, “but I couldn’t say no.”). She was excited about the next piece she was going to write for the memoir.
Just a few weeks ago, Suzanne introduced me to a dear friend of hers, another writer. I am so grateful that Yael wrote and saved me from having to get the news on Facebook. Yesterday, I scrolled through Suzanne’s recent posts, just to feel the living connection again. What I saw was something I had known but hadn’t articulated before: This was a woman fully engaged with the world, with art and poetry and nature, with politics and music and other human beings. She searched out things she found beautiful or interesting, or both, and shared them with her friends. She wrote from her soul and ended all her personal posts, Big Love… There is so much vitality in her feed.
Sometimes you feel that people are done. When a close friend died some years ago. I grieved her (and still do) but even the first night, when I felt like my head floated up to the ceiling when I heard, I sensed that she was all right with being finished here. I can believe that Suzanne is at peace now, relieved of the painful burdens of her body, but she wasn’t done. There was so much more she wanted to learn and share, experience and express.
Her death is a painful reminder to me that whatever we don’t share, whatever unique stories we don’t tell, whatever yearns to be expressed through us in whatever form but isn’t, will disappear with us one day. I was looking forward to learning more details about her life and I know that we would have been able to share it with others in a way that would have served them, Suzanne’s goal in so much she did.
On September 9, Suzanne shared the final lines of a poem by Mary Oliver. It feels like a message now.
to live in this world
you must be able
to do three things
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go
Love can grow quickly between kindred souls. I am so grateful for the time we had, grateful to the complex beast called Facebook that brought us together. Big Love goes with you, my friend.