As we enter the month of June, a month known for marriages and graduations, celebrations and rites of passage, as cities start to reopen, with people struggling to find work, reconnect safely, feed their families, see their loved ones, mourn humanely and protect the most vulnerable – their health and human rights, it’s an important time for us to consider our passages through life and this pandemic in particular.
I have two stories to share with you today: my own and my daughter (and Sweet Readers c-founder) Sophie’s. Each is a story of strength in the face of adversity and creative solutions to turn challenge into triumph.
For me, the past six months started with a battle against an aggressive Lymphoma that had outsized my spleen and spread beyond what my initial diagnosis revealed, only to intensify with the onslaught of CoVID19 – a virus particularly enamored with blood cancers which help it to ravage a person’s organs with cruel alacrity. In addition, I was being treated in New York City during a surge which found my hospital unprepared with patients and staff unprotected. After relocating to Boston with 36 hour’s notice and what appeared to be a life-threatening infection, I received a mid-term PET scan with five abnormalities. My cure rate dropped from over 70% to under 30%.
At the same time, two populations that I care passionately about, were also under siege: the elderly and our youth. Suddenly every elderly person was at risk and needed to be isolated. The kind of solitary confinement previously reserved for brutal punishment. Especially hard for those social beings, with and without cognitive impairment, who rely on social interaction and engagement (the kind Sweet Readers was founded on) for their sense of purpose, value and meaning. Far too many were dying. Voiceless and alone.
Students of all ages who came through poverty to finally get educated and find what they thought was a level playing field to a better future, were suddenly thrust back down, without access to the technologies they need to partake fully in remote education; some continue to face harsh home circumstances with no end in sight. other youth, those from more privileged circumstances, were also isolated from their friends and communities and suddenly without their summer jobs, some stuck in places unfamiliar. So many rites of passage dashed. You may think only some struggles matter, but the truth is, we all matter, each and every struggle. And we all need to help each other to ease the burden, be it mental health, mourning, human rights or financial wreckage.
It immediately became clear that we could empower our youth, as our mission dictated, to come together to create a new platform to reach isolated adults in need. With a mission founded on creative human engagement, it meant thinking in entirely new ways. Working with these bright minds, these passionate human beings, gave me renewed hope in our communities to pull together in the face of adversity and effect systemic change. Emma implored us to track the metrics and engage volunteers more meaningfully, Ella suggested we tell stories in new and moving ways, Mabel reached out to her grandmother’s home, Whitney reached out to her senator, Benji helped us to think critically about revenue streams and communicate our training succinctly; our college advisors and Young Leaders, dispersed throughtut the country, came together to help us modify our training, create program modules and PSA’s and test our new remote platform, Connect. Marley, Kate, Lucy, Avital, Darya, Olivia, Isabella, Tess, Grace, Riley, Julia, and dozens more became our most engaged Ambassadors revitalizing isolated adults and giving them new meaning and life – during turbulent times in their own lives. It has been breath-taking, or rather, life affirming and clarifying for me.
Last week I had my final infusion and received remarkable news – my scan was clear and I am now in full remission.
While my passage during these past months involved slowing down, developing a meditation, writing and self-care regimen along with nurturing many relationships in my life to promote balance and support the chemo in my quest to be cured; surrounding myself with passionate, dedicated kids who joined me in this effort to empower kids to revitalize the elderly and promote systemic change was a big part of my fuel.
There is no doubt that positive, intentional thinking and actions, with communities of support, can empower each of us to matter and contribute in this brave new global world. What’s your passion? Is it larger than your struggle? Can one fuel the other for you?
My second story is about my daughter Sophie’s rite of passage. When this pandemic started, Sophie, at age 20, had just landed in Marfa, Texas, eager to further her understanding of artist residencies as she and a friend prepared their plans to open a special artist residency in the Hudson Valley. A few days in, Marfa shut down. Sophie had made a few meaningful connections, but those relationships were frozen in time, leaving her alone in a home without family or friends, three airports, two flights, a train and three cars away from our home in New York. Sophie had already saved my life in December as my chef and staunch supporter when I was literally at death’s door and then set up a beautiful life for herself and her friends in her own new home in Greenpoint – wasn’t that passage enough? Sophie chose to stick it out. With a bicycle and cell phone, she managed to stay connected to loved ones, set a new goal for herself (to cycle a century) and in the process, rooted herself in the land, opened herself up to the still wide Texas sky and strengthened her core and connection to the people she loves.
Last week Sophie joined me in Boston. She was there for the finish of my treatment and we enjoyed a “strange normalcy” for a precious week. It was the week of George Floyd’s murder. Strengthened in her core and fueled by her passion for human rights, Sophie has found new ways to participate safely, proactively and impactfully. She is ardently helping her friends use this moment in time to help force positive change, for people to recognize that we are all human beings, regardless of the color of our skin.
To live in constant fear of facing death, torture or imprisonment simply because of the color of your skin is an outrageous injustice which needs to stop. As a society, we have an opportunity to change the system. If this is an issue close to your heart and you would like to help, below are some possible ways to do so safely and strategically, brought to you by The Cut.
Please note the following organizations and suggestions are not affiliated with or explicit recommendations of Sweet Readers or me personally. If you would like to get involved with any of these organizations or take any of these actions, I encourage you to do your own research to ensure your participation is right for you.
- Demand police accountability from your legislators. com is one place to visit to learn more.
- If you would like to support accountability in the Minneapolis Police Department specifically, then reclaimtheblock. org is another option.
- If you would like to make a donation, you might consider these organizations:
The Bail Project
Black Visions Collective
The Minnesota Freedom Fund
The Brooklyn Bail Fund
The NAACP Legal Defense Fund
Communities United Against Police Brutality
Northstar Health Collective
Tomorrow, the date my parents were married, was also supposed to mark the end of our 9thfull school year with our Insights & Appreciation Gathering at The Jewish Museum. But like so many weddings, births, deaths, graduations and rites of passage, it no longer made sense to gather in that way. I was looking forward to spotlighting Isabella, our Leadership Council Co-President who is graduating from high school, headed to Yale in the fall or perhaps in January. So much uncertainty and yet tremendous clarity as well. What is clear? That Isabella has developed the gifts she received from complete dedication: to her family, her communities, her studies and in service to others. It’s clear that Isabella has developed the tools she will need to continue to change the world and be a leader of leaders. Her commencement exercises will go far beyond a missed ceremony and her rite of passage is engrained in who she is. I hope you will read the Isabella post.
So what do we do now?
We find a way. We come together safely and strategically and we support each other and creatively, we find new ways to celebrate our rites of passage and commence with the matters at hand. We deem our lives, every one of them, important and figure out how we can contribute and then get to work. Because as with all passages, eventually they come to an end and the question you will face is, did you make it matter?
I challenge you to consider what we’ve gained, what you have gained and how you are learning to move through your own passages with renewed hope, inspired to make the most of this one precious life.