One of the most amazing speeches I ever had the privilege of hearing in person was delivered by Gila Sacks, the daughter of Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks. Gila delivered this speech to honour her father on the occasion of him being awarded the Templeton Prize in 2016.
A few years after that event, just this past fall, Rabbi Sacks passed away. When I watched the eulogy (below) that Gila delivered, many of the same qualities I had so admired about her Templeton speech shone through this one as well:
In this eulogy, Gila speaks to her father’s conviction that things can change and people can be responsible for changing them as well as to his character in forging his own children to become who they were created to be.
These are not mere words of sentimentality. What makes the eulogy so compelling is how Gila weaves the lessons from her father together with anecdotes from her ordinary, daily life along with what she learns and grapples with in the Bible.
I was struck by how well this eulogy fulfills the Jewish custom of eulogizing and lament, which has its basis in when Abraham eulogized and mourned his wife Sarah.
According to Jewish tradition, as discussed in this article, “When composing a eulogy, the goal is to praise the deceased, evoke an emotional reaction from the listeners, inspire listeners to improve their own lives by finding the qualities mentioned within themselves, and to consider their own legacies.”
Gila’s eulogy of her father is exemplary of this in every respect. She honoured her father well by reminding her listeners of their own capacity to build the world from love and responsibility.
In the highly interactive and exceptionally curated Museum of World Religions in Taipei, there is a permanent exhibit called Awakenings. As described by the museum, “This specially commissioned film includes interviews with world-renowned religious leaders, well-known laity, and other visitors. They bear witness to personal experiences that led to important changes in their lives. The aim of the film is to generate a resonance in visitors, irrespective of their time of life, and encourage them to actively seek changes at all opportunities.”
In the clip below, which I took during my visit, Cardinal Francis Arinze reflects on the formative persons in his life, mainly priests and teachers. One thing that struck me about this brief interview is how much affection he has for his teachers and how, even about teachers who have died he says, “the link remained because they made a change in my life, these people.
When persons instill something of there character, when they teach in such a way that, as Cardinal Arinze says, “you [cannot] be indifferent to [them]”, then these people do not disappear when they die, but rather remain in their students in whom they have made such an impression.
This evening a friend of mine shared with me about how she had led what she described as “a pretty death-free life” until the death of her grandmother.
Since my friend was a already adult when her grandmother passed away, this experience led her to make a few observations.
First, she noted that this grandmother, who had been a quiet, trusted presence in the family until the end of her life, was somewhat taken for granted by the other family members who presumed that this matriarch would somehow always be there.
Then, when she passed away, my friend said, “She became her whole life. Suddenly, everyone was pulling out family photos and trying to piece together the narrative of her early life. She became 5-year-old her, and 20-year-old her, and wedding day her, etc. seemingly all at once.”
The other realization my friend had was about all of the things that she didn’t know about her grandmother; her grandmother’s death became a reckoning for what my friend had and hadn’t taken the time to learn about her.
After losing a loved one, many people wish that they had taken the time to interview the person, to ask certain probing questions that never seemed urgent before, and to really capture a person’s story in their own words.
Accordingly, think of those you love the most and set out to encounter them in their depth and to record this encounter through writing, audio, or video. In the future, you may be very grateful for having done so, but the activity will also present the occasion for an encounter of depth during the relationship while you are both alive.
Photo: Screenshot from an hourlong video interview of my Zaida telling the story of how he came to Canada from Poland in 1937.
This evening, over a dinner reunion with a dear friend of mine, she confided to me that she did not consider herself to have been up to anything interesting lately.
As soon as I heard this, I objected because my friend most certainly has been up to a very many interesting things, and it is only a matter of clarifying what “interesting” truly means.
If you have ever had the delight of reading – or, even better, having read aloud to you – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry The Little Prince, you will remember the Little Prince’s reproach of the those grown ups who are ever concerned with matters of consequence: