“Joyful, joyful, we adore Thee, God of glory, Lord of love;
Hearts unfold like flow’rs before Thee, Op’ning to the sun above.
Melt the clouds of sin and sadness; Drive the dark of doubt away; Giver of immortal gladness, Fill us with the light of day!
All Thy works with joy surround Thee, Earth and heav’n reflect Thy rays,
Stars and angels sing around Thee, Center of unbroken praise.
Field and forest, vale and mountain, Flow’ry meadow, flashing sea,
Singing bird and flowing fountain, Call us to rejoice in Thee.
– Joyful Joyful We Adore Thee” written by Henry Van Dyke, score by Ludwig van Beethoven
I once attended a memorial service where the Rabbi told a story about death that has stuck with me. It went like this;
We each have two deaths. The first we have little control over. It is the day on which we take our last breath on this earth. The second death we have a much greater ability to control the timing of, and that happens on the day the last person who knew us, or of us, or of our life’s work takes their last breath. For on that day, that which we believed, valued, and embodied, our spirit and our legacy, leave this earth. And whether that is five years or fifty years or five hundred years after we pass is up to us to determine, by the way we live our precious life.
Legacy is an interesting notion, a much richer kind of measurement of worth than the one we so often use to define someone. I think of Native American tradition leaders whose bravery and wisdom becomes legend and is passed down through the generations. Or the above video of Beethoven’s stirring ninth symphony and the joy he set in motion 200 years ago in Europe when he wrote it, felt at many weddings, in the above flash mob a few years ago, and also today in Chicago at a midday memorial.
Today, the last of my dad’s generation was memorialized, his life’s work and his many loves shared and remembered. Opera singers sang Puccini, four adoring and emotional daughters expressed his many joys in life, and a love that flowed through him and was given freely to those around him. A commitment to equality and social justice in healthcare was underscored as his daughter, also a doctor, shared how this prominent doctor, teacher and leader in public health, had never joined the AMA because of a deep conviction that healthcare is a right, not a privilege. What we stand up for is what others remember.
Most moving to me was the honoring of my Episcopalian born uncle by his ‘adopted rabbi’ who co-officiated at the Presbyterian church he attended. A female minister co-officated, (apropos as he was always an advocate for women and equality.) She explained, “Whitney’s spiritual seeking reached beyond tribal constraints,” and the rabbi continued, “when a wing of his family merged with a family of another faith tradition, he embraced that and welcomed new growth.” I can’t think of a more impactful way for a person to not only stop a myopic view of faith passed down from generations, but to set a new way for our future generations.
Values, hard work, faith, joy, and service, give legs to one’s legacy. “They are now part of us,” sang Rabbi Chasen. “We remember.”
Listen here to “We Remember,” by Rabbi Ken Chasen