For Sheila McDonnell Hendricks
10 August 2007
Of course, it’s so difficult to know where to begin with something like this – something that attempts to sum up all that you’ve ever wanted to say, all that you hope you could say, and all those things that there are simply no words to adequately express. But nevertheless, it’s important to try. So, I’ll start with this:
We’ve all been talking a lot of late about how Nana was the matriarch of our family. And it’s so true. So I’ve also been thinking about other great matriarchs in history, and in particular, the first matriarch, Sarah.
What has always struck me about Sarah is what has always struck me about Nana – they were both amazingly brave and courageous women. We first meet Sarah when she is led by Abraham away from her native land, away from her father’s house, on a dangerous and uncertain journey, to a land neither of them had ever seen. Though the times and the circumstances were certainly different, I am certain that it took the same courage and faith and fortitude for Nana to leave her native land to come here for Grandpa.
It strikes me too that Abraham and Sarah were known for their hospitality. Their tent was famously open on all sides to welcome the wayfarer; they fiercely protected all who came under their roof. And as so many of us have been blessed to experience, 2227 Pennsylvania was also always open on all sides to everyone – tea always served. Even in these last weeks and months, the doors were always open, Nana still welcoming guests all day long.
But perhaps what I’ve thought of most is how Nana and Sarah shared an all-consuming devotion to their families – and in particular to their children – a devotion which fostered relationships so intense and deep and connected as to be absolutely impossible to describe by words.
Admittedly, where words fail me most is in attempting to express my gratitude, simply for having known a living example of the kind of role model others may only read about. So, perhaps what’s most important to say today is, “Thank you, Nana.” Though those two little words seem woefully inadequate to convey the depth of my gratitude, we’ll simply have to take them as a start – a shorthand way of getting at a sentiment so overwhelming as to be completely failed by words. Thank you. Thank you for being so brave to come half-way around the world to a place you did not know, leaving everything dear to you behind to start a new chapter in your life, to start our family, rearing three truly extraordinary children. Thank you for teaching them, both by word and example, the ways of the good life. Thank you for your strength and your courage, for your determination and your wisdom, and for your wit and sense of humor, which has charmed and delighted everyone who has ever known you. Thank you for making your home the center of our family – a place that was always warm and joyful, where a poem or song was always at the ready, where the cookie jar was always full, and where the kettle was always on.
G-d’s promise to Abraham and Sarah was that they would be a blessing, and that all the nations of the earth would be blessed through them. I know that we would all agree that for all of the other uncanny likenesses to Sarah, this is perhaps the truest of all: Nana was indeed a blessing, and we have all indeed been blessed for having known her.
With all this thinking about matriarchs, this week, I came across a poem written for another great matriarch, one for whom Nana had a particular fondness: Queen Elizabeth. So, I thought I’d conclude by sharing the poem that was read at the Queen Mum’s funeral. After all, Nana was our Queen Mum. And it’s good advice.
You can shed tears that she is gone,
or you can smile because she has lived.
You can close your eyes and pray she’ll come back,
or you can open your eyes and see all she’s left.
Your heart can be empty because you can’t see her,
or you can be full of the love you shared.
You can turn your back on tomorrow and live yesterday,
or you can be happy for tomorrow because of yesterday.
You can remember her and only that she’s gone,
or you can cherish her memory and let it live on.
You can cry and close your mind, be empty and turn your back,
or you can do what she’d want:
Smile, open your eyes, love and go on.