Monday, July 31, 2006

A Late "Thank You" to Pam

Pam Waechter was working at the Jewish Federation downtown Friday afternoon when a man walked into the building with a gun, announced that he was Muslim, said he was angry at Israel and shot six women, one after another. Ms. Waechter, annual-campaign director for the federation, died there. She was 58. According to her friends, Pam was a mediator, a major contributor to the Jewish community, and just wanted everyone to get along. She worked to support people who convert to Judaism, and those who marry Jews but chose not to convert.

In 1995, Pam was also a volunteer at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, WA. My husband and I spent a few weeks in Seattle back then, helping my inlaws tend to their son, my husband's brother, while he underwent (successfully) a bone marrow transplant at The Hutch, as it was called by those who were unlucky enough to know the center personally. On more than a few occasions, Pam gave us a ride and comforting conversation to and from the airport in Seattle. We were quite impressed at the time that anyone would volunteer their time and resources (sometimes in the middle of the night) to drive family members of patients (total strangers) around Seattle. Maybe because we were so preoccupied with my brother-in-law's health, or perhaps because Pam made us feel like it was truly her pleasure to help us out... I'm not sure why we didn't pay all that much attention but we thankfully accepted Pam's and others' generosity and then went about the business of nursing our family back to health. Having a family member teeter on the brink of death, especially in a strange (yes, Seattle can be quite strange) city and far-away state gives you enough to occupy your thoughts. How nice to have someone, anyone, be there, ready to meet us outside our hotel at 3:00am to take us back to the airport just so that we had one less thing to think about.

It occurs to me today, as I read about Pam's death, that she has touched so many others' lives as well. She happily gave to others in their time of need, as she did with us, in the truest spirit of generosity. She didn't want anything in return, except perhaps for everyone to just be OK.

Hopefully, her killing was the work of an individual with a lot of problems who just used the situation in the Middle East "as an excuse to act out." As reported in The Seattle Times, Muslim and Jewish groups are coming together in Seattle to speak out about such vicious hate crimes.

In the name of God,
Most Gracious, Most Merciful.
Accept our prayer to sustain us
and our brothers and sisters of different beliefs
in our desire for peace. . .
Help us to find this peace in our living together,
and in mutual sustenance with our neighbors. . . . Amen

Mian Ashraf
New England Islamic Center, Sharon, MA

O God Source of Life, Creator of Peace. . .
Help Your children, anguished and confused,
To understand the futility of hatred and violence
And grant them the ability to stretch across
Political, religious and national boundaries

So they may confront horror and fear
By continuing together
In the search for justice, peace and truth. . . .
With every fiber of our being
We beg You, O God,
To help us not to fail nor falter. Amen

Rabbi H. Rolando Matalon
Congregation B'nai Jeshurun, New York, NY


Anonymous said...

How Billy Joel's song says.."only the good die young."

Lee Kolbert said...

Yes, unfortunately. I'd say that's incentive to be bad... very bad. What do you think? :)

Anonymous said...

Do I think that it is incentive to be bad or incentive to be good? good.. die young...or be bad.. die old. Supposing that you could make the choice, how would you want to be remembered?

Lee Kolbert said...

That's an interesting question. I'm not sure any of us are remembered for who we are as opposed to the lessons we teach/memories we leave. As parents, teachers, friends, even enemies... we teach others all the time. Except for the notably famous names (Marilyn Monroe, Abraham Lincoln, Jane Goodall, etc.) our names may die much sooner than the lessons we leave. Do you know the names associated with some of these extremely important lessons learned?
* The Printing press
* Gunpowder
* The Steam engine
* The discovery of the scientific method
* Theory of evolution
* The discovery of genetics and DNA
* Calculus
* Human Flight
* Nuclear Power
* The transistor and electronics
* Space travel and mankind's first flight to the moon
* The internal combustion engine
* Capitalism and socialism
* The computer and the Internet
* Universal suffrage
* Quantum Physics

Anonymous said...

Came across this quote, it is thought provoking....
If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.
Steve Jobs

Lee Kolbert said...

Although I do think Steve Jobs can be very profound at times, I think the quote you refer to is not a good barometer for how we should start our days. It's not terribly practical. On my last day of living, I doubt I would bother going to work, doing laundry, scrubbing the toilets, you know... However, those things still need to get done. They could be ditched in the event of my impending demise, but how embarrassing to show up for work the NEXT day with your excuse: "Er, I didn't come in yesterday because I thought it would be my last day on Earth, so instead I went to the beach, had a few Pina Coladas, went surfing, etc. Hee, Hee, I know... I'm just as surprised as you are to see me here today!" That would go over really well!

Anonymous said...

Ah...see I see the quote through different eyes..not as how do I want to live my last day but as... do I live each day in a way that I can look back and feel good about it...I am happy to go to my job...if I wasn't it would be time to move on to a different one. I am happy to clean, laundry etc...I give thanks each day that I am bodily able to do these things. I believe his point is if you are doing something that makes you unhappy for many days in a is time for a change is short you need to live it the way YOU want to be remembered...not how someone else will remember you is a choice that you decide.
Eventually too many days with Pina Coladas, beach, and surfing would force me to say time for a change.