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Commentary Last Updated: Oct 28th, 2007 - 23:52:13

A death in the family
By Jerry Mazza
Online Journal Associate Editor

Oct 29, 2007, 00:49

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It was about 8:30 Tuesday morning and I was reading my article on Bill Maher that had just come up at Online Journal. Just then the phone rang. My cousin Eddy (once removed but as close to me as a brother) told me he had bad news. His older brother Nick�s wife, Lucy, had died the night before. There was as ever the shock, like the dull thud of a bullet that hits as he told me the details. Just before going to sleep, she didn�t feel well. Nick had gone to the kitchen to make her a cup of tea. When he returned she was slumped over on the bed, gone.

I will spare you the details of the many illnesses Lucy had dealt with through her life, and how Nick, who will be 70 in a week, had always, always, stood by her, as did her grown daughter, her daughter's husband and their two beautiful children, whom Lucy loved like life itself. Somehow, as our last visit together only weeks before came to me, how happy she seemed to be, though hardly able to walk without great pain, it was like a second thud: how quickly a loved one could be swept away like the fall leaves on the long lawn of their house on High Peak Road, somewhere in rural/suburban New York State, America.

This was not the death of thousands of American soldiers, the million or more Iraqi civilians, the cumulative millions of deaths of history�s half century, tragic as they all were. This was one personal death in the family. And it stopped me mid-sentence, reading what I had written. The loss of that friendship and love struck me, the thought of the pain it would inflict on Nick, the best of men, architect, great jazz musician, my favorite guy to jam with, the hub of a circle of family and friends who loved him as they did Lucy.

Somehow that passing was so close to home it overshadowed the other losses. It reminded me of what must those other families might feel, those other cousins, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, friends. Or even the families of innocent bystanders shot on streets in Manhattan, the Midwest, LA. Does the bell toll with any less shock for them? I doubt it. In fact, the morning�s local news told of a 12-year old school boy from Brooklyn who died of a rare staff infection. It told of homeless people unable to get into shelters in Manhattan because they didn�t �qualify.� Who on earth would go to one unless they qualified?

But then there was Lucy again. She knew about suffering, personally and professionally. She had spent many years of her life as a social worker, counseling ex-convicts and their families in Port Jervis, New York. She had seen it all, the poverty, the violence, the hurt, incest, prostitution, alcoholism, drug addiction, and it left its mark on her. Yet her persistent smile overrode her complaints of pain and some new surgery or treatment to keep body and soul together. Again, that smile, that person, vulnerable on her walker but there for her family, was a treasure lost.

And it occurred to me how hard life was, all wars and criminality aside, let alone to have them and catastrophe, like the recent California fires, weighed against the good moments. Nick summed it up for me over the phone. He said, �We have to mortgage all the beautiful days we had together against the price of a day like this.� It was so simple, so elegant a phrase, from a man who designed and built every structure imaginable, including the total renovation of his pre-Revolutionary War farmhouse, which also was a love of Lucy�s life and his. There was a sense of history that oozed out of the house, the rough red, faded brick, the thick wood planks, the oak pillars, the black iron fireplaces of each room, the creaks and shadows, the ghosts of settlers and Indians that lurked from the second cellar to the musty attic.

We all know that history and its pain and triumphs. Somehow it brought us to this day and our losses and the Indian summer�s beauties. I could see the light shining through the backyard trees, the leaves� colors flooding into the big kitchen. I could see the patio�s hand-made stone wall, the flowers carefully planted, the half-mowed lawn for want of time that rolled down to the road where pick-up trucks rolled by, and new cars sped by, hitting an occasional deer at night, splattering the macadam with blood, like this day in history.

I could see the dairy farmer�s corn and feed silo down the road, the horses quietly munching their feed in a neighbor�s corral. I could see the rustic beauty of the no-two-alike houses planted in the mountains rolling out of sight. This was America. This was family, a family rolling like those mountains from sea to sea, what with its daily losses, its relatives gathering at a wake before a picture, an urn or casket, comforting each other with memories, an occasional joke, reminiscences that turned to tears, and wiped away.

This was America and the world and these were the days of our time, with the good times to be mortgaged against the rough times. And these, if the news had anything to say about it, were tough times, real tough. Because our mortgages themselves seemed to have lost their values and the society itself was sinking in debt. And behind it was a misplacement of our assets and capital, including our ethical and moral capital.

Between these thoughts emails started to flood in from readers, either thanking me for defending the 9/11 Truthers against Bill Maher�s attacks, or attacking me for defending them. Yet, I responded to them all, teaching if I could, defending if I must, thanking some, chewing others out if they seemed impossibly thick.

Yet unlike my readers, Lucy wasn�t a political person. But she was aware. She read a lot and always asked me to send her my poetry. Sure, Nick read all my articles. But I had the feeling that given her own pain she took solace in the poetry, frankly as I do, beyond the telling and the retelling of the vicissitudes of this world. Perhaps as Plato once said, �Poetry was closer to the truth than history.� And after all is said and done, after the funeral on Monday in Long Island City, after the burial in the cemetery staring at the New York skyline and its millions, after Lucy�s ashes are laid to rest beside her mother�s, it would be a poem that I was writing that I would offer then as solace to us all.

After all was said and done, we would all go to Eddy�s house or somebody�s house afterwards, gather, and break bread together. And hope for the resurrection of our hope, which would come. Though I only go to church at weddings and funerals, somehow the central myth of my boyhood religion sticks with me: that the light will rise over a death in the family, as over all those of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. It is a simple enough thought, based on the movement of the seasons and the earth. A faith built on the science and seeable reality of the universe. And I can only hope that same light rises like consciousness in the minds, hearts and souls of humanity to temper the death and bloodshed that comes so easily to us.

Perhaps I ask for a miracle that the Middle East should be defused. That Israel and the United States back off their belligerent stands, so that Iran and others can do the same. That all the secret and known oppressors of the world see the image of those they oppress in the mirror. For it is themselves, their human family members, they oppress. And the bell tolls, whether in Long Island City, New York, Beirut, Darfur, DC, or from that white church steeple in tiny Smithville near Nick and Lucy�s house -- that the bell tolls for all of us. No matter which way we turn to escape that truth, we will meet it, ourselves, in the next mirror.

And so, may Lucy rest in peace. May all in this world of darkness and light live in peace, in the daily balance of death and Eros, walking across the tightrope of life, with or without a net.

Jerry Mazza is a freelance writer living in New York. Reach him at

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