Oh Dana girl, the pipes, the pipes are calling
From glen to glen, and down the mountain side
The summer's gone, and all the flowers are dying
'Tis you, 'tis you must go and I must bide.
The Talmud (Kesubos 103a) reports the last words of Rabbi Judah the Prince,
who had used his wealth and scholarship to compile the Mishna, a written
format of basic Jewish law. He said: "Joseph of Haifa and Simon of Efrat
assisted me in my lifetime and they will assist me after death." Within
seven days of his passing, the two men whom he had named, his most trusted
helpers, also passed on. An astonishing idea this, that loyal attachments
founded here might be reified into an eternal link between souls. So much
so that one cannot long linger here without the other.
If ever we saw an instance where this notion seems almost tangible, it is
the case of Dana Reeve, who shuffled off this mortal coil today, at the peak
of her youth and beauty. It could hardly be that her body could not sustain
the weight of her forty-four years: rather that she had forged a bond with
her husband, Christopher Reeve, so profound that it was absurd for them to
occupy separate worlds. Hollywood fulfills no more important function for
society than inspiring people to love, but rarely have individual actors
modeled such unswerving mutual fealty.
The story of Christopher and Dana Reeve features heroism aplenty. From the
moment of his injury, when a dashing sportsman became a helpless invalid,
his grit and her tirelessness merged into a great moral teaching for our
generation. They used their situation as a springboard to help others in
various meaningful ways, including a call for aggressive research into the
relief of paralysis.
And now, eighteen months after his departure, she who assisted him in life
has gone to assist him after death. Another image from the Talmud (Bava
Batra 58a) comes inevitably to the fore. They tell of a scholar who had a
vision in which he saw Eliezer, the servant of Abraham, and he asked Eliezer
what Abraham was doing at that moment. The answer: "He is resting in
Sarah's arms and she is gazing lovingly at his head." Somehow I feel that
if we could see Christopher and Dana now, the scene might be much the same.
But come ye back when summer's in the meadow
Or when the valley's hushed and white with snow
'Tis I'll be here in sunshine or in shadow
Oh Dana girl, oh Dana girl, I love you so.
Ours is an era so abloom with opportunity that constancy becomes ever more
elusive. We flit from flower to flower like little bees, forgetting that
the ultimate goal must be to fashion a creditable hive, to support each
other in community and to produce a sweet legacy for the ages. Emerson
sniped that "a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds", yet we
need more consistency to bolster the health of our society, but it is
hobbled by all our gobbling.
Dana Reeve lived the celebrity life, where people can only appear outdoors
in full performance mode, prettified and primped and preening, what Irwin
Shaw called "polished fruit". Then she was thrust from the limelight into
the harsh spotlight, where there is no down time, no dressing room, no
backstage. Every minute of every day you have to be on, and if you're not
for real the folks will spot it in a flash. She showed us solidity beyond
compare, throughout her husband's infirmity and her own illness.
One more thought from the Jewish tradition, this from the Jerusalem Talmud.
They tell of Rabbi Boon, a great scholar who died at age twenty-eight. At
his funeral, they reckoned that he had studied as much as most men who live
to a hundred. (For example, if an average person studies two hours a day
from age 16 to 100, he will have spent seven full years studying. A person
could match that between age 16 and 28 by doing fourteen hours a day.)
It seems to me that this sort of calculus can be applied to compassion as
well. Dana Reeve lived a full life of kindness; she just skipped the
lighter parts. We can look to her in our fretful moments, when the
importunities of life and the needs of others are especially taxing. Let us
say of her what Paul Harvey said of a departed friend: "The next time you
hear that gentle, loving voice, you will know that you're in Heaven."
And I shall hear, tho' soft you tread above me
And all my dreams will warm and sweeter be
If you'll not fail to tell me that you love me
I'll simply sleep in peace until you come to me.