The year in review of those who have died always gives me pause. But this year in particular, several persons who are notable also had a profound effect on my life.
- Leonard Cohen wrote the songs that Judy Collins covered in my teen years. In particular, “Suzanne.” The title track from his last album, “You Want It Darker” was somehow prescient.
- I was too young to follow Tom Hayden in his SDS days but I remember going to hear both he and Jane Fonda speak at Yale one evening. He walked the talk and made the transition from defying the system from outside to changing it from within.
- Pat Summit. She took women’s collegiate basketball to a level of respect that no one else could, Title IX or no Title IX. Her Lady Vols were talented and fierce. As was she. Alzheimer’s took her way too early.
- I knew him as Cassius Clay before his conversion to Islam. He and Howard Cosell (who I could not stand to hear talk in his New York accent which distorted words) would put on quite the duel of words for the public. But it wasn’t Ali’s bravado or boxing that impressed me. It was his conscientious objection to the Vietnam War and the jail time he served.
- Fidel Castro. I have a picture of my parents and me at age 10 standing in front of sign at Guantanamo Bay that points to the place where Castro cut off the water supply to the American base. I would visit Cuba again in 2000 with a church tour. He is neither a devil or a hero to me. Too often the oppressed becomes the oppressor.
- Janet Reno was mocked and scapegoated. But no one succeeded in discrediting her. She could not be bought by any political party. He allegiance was to the law. The first female Attorney General.
- Elie Wiesel, Holocaust survivor and author. Seeing him speak at Linwood College in Oregon years ago was profound. Two things he said that stay with me: “Silence is a denial of the truth.” And, “Never call a human ‘illegal.’”
And there was Maurice White of “Earth, Wind, and Fire.” Pat Conroy whose books needed better editors but were raw, brutal, and powerful. Playwright Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolff” blew the lid off of marriage.
Each year a reminder of loss and a twinge of grief. And each year gratitude for both the extraordinary and ordinary persons who left their mark.
Peace, Shalom, Salaam,