I’ve lost two friends recently, people who were significantly older, people who I count as dear friends–but as spiritual mentors and guides and role models as well. Neither of their deaths was a surprise… but I’ve been hit more deeply than I could have anticipated. My life was enriched by each of these people, Bill and Margaret; their deaths have left that hollow empty place in my soul.
My friend Donna posted on Facebook today about the death of one of her students–the first of her students to die. Donna wrote:
The first of my former students passed away yesterday: Kirby Capen ’07. She successfully petitioned the Engineering Program to allow her to take ASL as her foreign language. Between graduating and taking an engineering job in the field of energy efficiency, she won a grant from Projects for Peace to teach beading to teenage girls in Ghana, working to create relationships of understanding across deaf and hearing communities and across religious backgrounds. May her memory be for a blessing.
Some people life a far longer lifespan and accomplish far less than this. Indeed, Kirby’s memory, even though I never met her, blessed me today.
And so I looked at the link that Donna posted, to KirbyStrong, a blog-diary on the life-and-death struggle written by the family…
One post in particular struck me. It’s called “Kodesh.”
24 Jan 2012
When my mother died in 1994, we sat Shiva for 6 days. At some point Owen, 5 years old, said to Joel’s mother on the phone, “Nanny died and we have been having a party ever since.”
This past weekend we were overwhelmed, in the best sort of way, by a flood of Kirby’s friends from all her walks of life. Burgundy Farm Country Day School first through third grade; CHDS, fourth through eighth grade; School Without Walls (SWW), high school; Smith, Engineering, Morrow House, Hillel, signing table; PowerCon; New York City; Capitol Hill; Temple Micah; and blood relatives. (With overlaps: Smith/NYC, CHDS/Capitol Hill, Temple Micah/Capitol Hill etc. etc.
Our neighbors opened their houses and hosted Kirby’s visitors, we filled beds on A Street and 9th Street. P, B and J played guitars and harp all day Saturday, filling the house with music. We ate, we drank, we washed dishes and cleaned up then started all over again. People came to Kirby’s bedside as individuals and in groups, singing to her, reading poetry to her, telling stories, reminiscing, showing her pictures, praying for her, crying, and sometimes just holding her hand as she appeared to sleep. We shared Shabbat dinner and Havdalah (end of Sabbath) services together, surrounding Kirby and embracing each other as we recited the prayers and performed the rituals.
As the Rabbi was leaving I shared my observation and concern that it was like an awake wake. Was this the right thing to be doing? He replied:
“The two words are
“Kodesh and chol
“This is the Havdalah prayer—we separate kodesh (holy) from chol (ordinary).
“The Hebrew word chol, besides meaning ordinary\secular\profane—also means sand. Sand is what flows right through your fingers. No grain of sand sticks to any other. This is chol—a totally unconnected world.
“Kodesh is the opposite—Kodesh is cleaving together—adhering—community. This is why the Hebrew word for marriage is Kiddushin—the married couple is bound together in the most unique way. Kodesh\holiness is in community.”
Kirby recently described herself as a networker, a connector, someone who brings others together. She has brought us all together in a community of holiness.
Life and death, the ordinary and the holy, separateness and sticking together, the bitter and the sweet. It’s all intertwined–sometimes messily, sometimes more cleanly. I pray comfort for the family and friends of Kirby. I wish that everyone had such a loving family and friends. (My friends Bill and Margaret did too.)
May we all work to be blessings to each other and to the whole world. May be all be brought together in a community of holiness.