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An Indomitable Spirit – in memoriam of Sandra Steinberg

I wish to capture the depth of who she was

knowing full well it is past the boundaries of love and language

poetry as forum for finding the words

to reach that which life alone cannot

a vehicle, a vessel for that 

indisputable purveyor of profound emotion.

 

I grieve the loss of a woman

who was more than a friend

more than the friend of my mother

she was also the last thread

to an old-fashioned club

a group that taught and showed

what it meant to be a friend in this world.

 

Taken in under their wings, the girls

from whom I learned the indelible lesson

of what is possible when women connect

in community, love and devotion

laughter, loyalty, passion, empathy

holding each other up

sometimes scraping the bottomless pit of their joy and grief

as they symbiotically coexisted

each forming a container to reflect the other

something you helped me to see

you, after all, the strongest one

I was young when I first noticed

the spark of vitality form their convening

over mahjong tiles clacking 

in rhythm with their gum,cigarettes and high pitched laughs

station wagon car pools

block parties, babysitting

telephones with twisted wires

innocence running rampant

those women of valor

midst a backdrop of the 60s and 70s

their lives barely concealing the furor of those times

how we grew around it all

through a group of men and women

who modeled loyalty of a fierce nature

that taught trust

that did not need a name or label

it simply was

 

Demonstrated in the small and larger acts of community

they danced, sang, celebrated

laughed with their eyes

stood up when it counted

came through no matter the cost

through the milestones of life as well as death

and as each fell into rhythm

with God’s mysterious timetable

the others stood taller to meet whatever came next

and grew stronger and more resilient

in the way that age and life fortifies.

 

So to you my dear friend

who lived life on your own terms

so much so that when I came to meet you

I finally understood

even though it took the loss of my own mother

to finally receive who you really were

and you received me

within the deep harbor of your soul

 

How I loved the distinctive throaty tones of your laughter

how it penetrated my early vision

of what devotion looked like

it filled me with wonder

it was you who modeled after all

my first experience of grief

when the first to fall was your valiant sweetheart

grand and solid and powerful

in the ways of honor and the highest form of love

I could imagine

leaving you in memory’s embrace

that you held onto, literally, for dear life

all those years

in a way both rare and heartbreaking

 

And as your sons grew into men

I watched from a distance

in appreciation for the legacy of a truly beautiful man

whose loss was tempered 

by the legacy of your equally beautiful sons

distinctive in their blend of sweetness and strength

 

I am so grateful for what you gave me

in the last years

when I found my way to you

in the ways of women who reach other’s bottom line

etched from love of decades of connection

watching you struggle

begged the question

what were you hanging onto?

 

Your eagerness, spark, passion, devotion

beyond your children and their children

the very essence of unconditional love

despite the losses of your friends

the gravity of the world’s diseases

we dissected together

a shared comprehension

of how depravity and hope could possibly coexist

 

I did get hints at the answer in those moments

when we laughed,

our private jokes and understanding

shared midst stories of life challenges

and late night humor

sharing the lens through which we saw in the same way 

how the world was collapsing

knowing when and how to laugh

as you welcomed in my old soul as a companion

and I became a daughter again

a mother, a sister, a girlfriend,

and we could manifest the presence

of those we loved together unequivocally

with our shared need

we saw miracles 

we grew new life in and from our stories

extrapolating from the remains

of what kept us strong

 

I see your legacy 

in much the same way as of my own mother’s

of the life of a woman

who managed to balance

traditional adoration of a man

in the middle of a century of unrest

fortunate enough to have found someone

worthy of such near worship

but then those men, the fathers, the husbands

were cut from a cloth

whose fabric can no longer be found

whose iron weaving from another era

permeates our strongest memories

balance of that sweet do-wop love

with the growth of an unspoken feminist manifesto.

I say my goodbye with refreshed tears

welling up from a soul

only you recognized in these last few years

I cherished how you saw me

in a way few could

and taught me the value of that sight

we passed between us

a torch of remembrance 

whatever light we could find

in the growing darkness of aging

 

We are left to pick up the pieces of the loss of your presence

in peace now and reunited with your loved ones

that alone brings solace to those you leave behind 

forever feeling 

that tender touch of love

that embodied

such an indomitable spirit as yours

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