As anyone who has ever lost a loved one can attest, dealing with the void created with the departure of a parent, grandparent or, God forbid, a child is never easy. The journey itself has ups and downs, moments of intense pain peppered with fond recollections of a shared smile, an inside joke or a gentle touch, but it is neither short nor determinative. Loss stays with you and, in the pre-messianic era at least, is irreversible.
While my own personal style is neither to dedicate my words nor use them in the first person in an attempt to deal with my own loss, I am charting a new path this week. For while I typically address you, dear reader, as an editor, I now write as someone in grief.
This past Sunday, I lost my grandmother.
For those who knew her as a child in Chicago or as a mother, teacher, artist and activist in Philadelphia, Barbara Lea Blinder defied definition. She could be biting in her critique but had a gift for discovering beauty in the most mundane of places. To me, of course, she was larger than life, but those around her also couldn’t help but be struck by her sense of style, her moral compass and her energetic spirit. She was, in a word, powerful; she was keenly aware of her ability to inspire high school students, synagogue members, art lovers and neighbors and of her responsibility to impart her special way of seeing the world to those who had the courage to allow themselves to be challenged.
Like those profiled in this week’s story on the 40th anniversary of the Baltimore Chavurah, my grandmother had a deep appreciation for religious investigation and social interaction. She was, along with my grandfather, among the founding members of Temple Sholom in Broomall, Pa., creating the sign that graces the entrance to the 68-year-old property. And, like those whose strong-willed spirits have become a central theme of much of the JT’s coverage in recent months, she faced adversity head-on and commanded others to do the same.
“Suck it up!” was a refrain heard throughout much of my life as was her soft-spoken way of asking to rate problems on a scale of one to 10. Not much made it past a six, so everything, she taught, was manageable. And when true disappointment or tragedy struck, her wisdom spoke with its silence as much as with its words. A student in her later years of the literature of King Solomon, she typified the ecclesiastical refrain of “a time to speak and a time to be silent.”
Having spent a lifetime of teaching others, her time for silence has unfortunately begun, but as our tradition has taught for thousands of years, though her body has ceased to function, her soul will live on. And if there’s one eternal lesson that can be gleaned from a life that spanned 87 years — one that I try to impart to my own children — it is this: Be decisive.
Whether in politics, in a marriage or in business, don’t be afraid to take the first step, to put pen to paper or paint to canvas. There will be plenty of time to question, but now is the time for action.