Yesterday I attended a memorial for a judge. This man had a great capacity to inspire love in others, even despite his important position in a world that does not seem to embody this trait. I know this man had that capacity, partly because I had the great honor and pleasure to spend one Thanksgiving – just one – as a guest where this man and his wife were also invited. I myself felt that love for him, after just that one encounter over turkey.
I found this uncanny. The encounter was so brief, compared to my lasting sense of him.
The same friend — husband to one of my closest intimates — who extended the Thanksgiving invitation also spoke the judge’s eulogy. From what this man said, I surmised that the judge had the capacity to inspire love in this friend because the judge, himself, was so free with his own capacity to love others.
This could not have been more plain, in the love my friend expressed in return. It was painful to hear the depth of loss. Even though I know that my friends will keep that love alive and warm within them for as long as they live – and, therefore, for as long as we share our lives on this planet.
I was also struck, to my very core, by the choice at the memorial of Leonard Cohen’s HALLELUJAH. Now friends, this is the Bible Belt. The judge was a son of this region, being born in Fort Smith, Arkansas.
How many judges – from anywhere – do you think would have had that song as a choice at their memorial? Here are a few lyrics to help you decide, from HALLELUJAH by Leonard Cohen. A Jewish man, by the way, a man of my own generation.
So was the judge of my generation, being, as he was, only six years older than I.
You say you took the name in vain
I don’t even know the name
But if I did, well really, what’s it to you?
There’s a blaze of light
In every word
It doesn’t matter which you heard
The holy or the broken hallelujah
The broken hallelujah.
How many judges do you think – from anywhere – would have chosen to go out with that? With the holy, and the broken?
I might add, by the way, that this judge had been chief of staff for Bill Clinton during Clinton’s first term as governor of Arkansas. I might also add that Mr. Clinton himself also spoke yesterday. And I did see the power and might behind his former federal office. The military guards. The big black Cadillac SUVs ranked outside the door.
Even though Mr. Clinton sat at the end of a row, in the audience just like the rest of us.
Like the rest of the thousands of us, I should say.
So here was it for me. I understood this judge to be a man who could make his way in this broken world, as a champion of education, of justice, a man who inspired love in others because he himself knew what it was to be broken, and he could still to be so free with love for others.
He and his wife would also show up on their motorcycles, in full leather kit. Big motorcycles. I’m told his wife was the one who had that idea first!
So what is it, then, to love in a broken world?
I look to my cats. As the boys in my life.
They are themselves. They are just as they are. They are semi-wild creatures, big personalities confined in territory too small, sharing it with a madwoman. Under those circumstances, they are entitled to be wild.
And they still fight like wild things, too. On the same day I took these pictures, Bugsy ended up with a patch gone out of his fur and a scratch above his right eye.
Perhaps men do not come by domestication easily.
But my cats also accommodate themselves, with immense grace, to the realities in which they find themselves.
That was the other song at the memorial.