​This is the article I didn’t want to write. 
Aware of inexorable tempus fugit, bringing this date – May 1st – I told myself to keep busy with various yardwork projects, head down all day…and just get through it.  My assignment was before me:  a busy Friday in another week of covid-19 “shelter in place.”  Then, I opened my email this morning to find a memorial of the second anniversary of a woman’s death.  Her name stared back at me, and I was again reminded of the fragility of life on this planet.

We met in November 2010…let’s call her “Lena.”  She was this diminutive young Jewish lady – a curious thirty-something psychotherapist exuding an aura:  self-confident, yet compassionate.  I thought, “Well, this’ll be quick…she and I have absolutely nothing in common, so of course, she can’t possibly understand what it’s like to be weighed down by tragedy, bad health, unemployment and other misfortune.  I’d dump a steaming load of crap on her; she’d reply, “How does that make you feel?”; and I’d walk out and finish my pathetic life in dramatic fashion. The fact that I’m writing this on May 1st, 2020 should tell you how badly I misjudged her.  What I couldn’t know then, but learned over the course of three years of intensive psychotherapy and five years of abiding friendship was that Lena, too, came from tragedy…and that her tragedy was not yet over.

Despite my smug defiance, and my contempt for the all trite clichés that go with being in treatment, she saw through my pain and gently but firmly guided me toward a path of self-discovery and healing.  As trauma can and often does, my memories were a sealed vault, filled with horrific images.  Lena patiently accessed those memories with the greatest concern for my ultimate well-being.  In our last session, in 2013, I told her, “thank you for saving me.”  She wouldn’t accept that, so I rephrased, “Well then, thank you for helping me save myself.”  That, she could accept.  She asked, “Do you understand the difference?”  For the first time, I could truthfully answer, “yes.”

While I wouldn’t see Lena again for four years, we stayed in touch, and she always treated me with the same kindness and respect she’d shown in those years when I spewed all kinds of mental toxin at her, only to receive in return, Lena’s genuine concern and understanding.  She understood that none of my poison was ever about her, and that she had two choices:  to simply sympathize, or to teach me to think differently.  Because she chose the latter, I am writing these words to you now.

As I read through the different remembrances written for Lena over the last two years, I witnessed familiar sentiments and similar fond recollections as my own, written by many of her past patients.  They are a testament to Lena’s Christ-like compassion as she touched the hearts and minds of so many, helping expose and heal their wounds with love and grace.  One remembrance in particular stood out, because it encompassed and resembled my experience:

There are a few people in your life that shape you, or help you to grow. Lena is one of those. She listened patiently without judging, and then would ask permission to express an opinion. She didn't cloud her opinions with emotion, and she gently held the mirror of self-reflection up until you were ready to confront the truth. And when the truth was uncomfortable, she was supportive, caring and loving. I miss her terribly, but smile because she allowed me to share moments of discovery, learning and personal growth with her. She made the world a much kinder place, and will always be remembered as a friend.

In Summer of 2017, I met Lena for coffee.  We were collaborating on my first book, and I wanted her guidance on some prickly elements.  When I walked into the coffee shop, I saw a woman sitting at a table whom I recognized as Lena; however, it wasn’t Lena as I knew her.  She was different…in demeanor, posture, even in visage.  She looked severe, face taut, reluctant to make eye contact.  I couldn’t imagine why the woman who, in the past, so generously shared her emotions on the phone regarding her father, her fiancé and her excitement about changing office locations would be so distant, cold.  Not until October of that same year – after expressing my confusion about our last meeting – would she tell me, via text, about the atrocity:  her vicious rape at the hands of a new patient in September of the previous year.  It took her over a year to finally take back her voice; she said it was the result of our summer meeting, and my subsequent observation in October that something was desperately wrong. 

We continued conversing via text and email through late February, 2018.  She told me then that she’d been diagnosed with a rare, debilitating disease of the nervous system.  We reminisced her many “klutzy” moments over the course of my treatment with her…mysterious sprained ankles, stress fractures, etc.   She said she’d never had a clue, and learning this was like having the sky open up and swallow her.  Then, quite suddenly, her replies stopped.  Concerned, I finally wrote her in April:  no response.

On June 1st, 2018, having received no further correspondence, I decided to do an internet search, see if she’d perhaps moved…though it struck me as odd that she might do so with nary a word.  And there it was – her obituary:  Born May 26, 1975; died May 1, 2018.  In between is where she lived.  When the pain became too great, she chose the only graceful option left. 

As the sun sets on another anniversary I’d rather forget, I am reminded of her fierce courage and generous spirit.  And now, its up to us – her patients – to remember her…and choose our responses.  What will I choose?
In the age of covid-19, unfathomable stories emerge of courageous nurses and doctors who – of sheer despair – have taken their own lives amidst the carnage of bodies ravaged by the disease; truckloads of corpses discovered rotting; fear and despair amidst “essential” workers exposed; and debt that goes unpaid as people lose their livelihoods through no fault of their own…while elected leaders finger-point in the daily circus of the politics-absurd.  “These are the times,” wrote Thomas Paine, “that try men’s souls.”  Memories of this time will be forged and told generations from now.  What will those memories say of us?  How will we choose?  For what will we be remembered?  Two-hundred years hence, when our bodies are food for worms, with nothing but a fading gravestone to mark the flicker of our brief candle, who will remember us?

Humbly, I submit that only through our selfless service to others and kindness to the generations that precede and follow us will we forge our own place in the Heavens.  Only by “paying it forward” in a real sense, can we leave the world a little kinder, a little more humane than we found it.  That was, after all, Christ’s charge to us with his new commandment.

I choose to remember Lena as a force for good, and I know the world is worse without her.  But the good she did, helping me – and many like me – to save our own lives, will echo in eternity.  This night, I pray I will see her again.

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