August 11, 2015

Remembering Jean Rice, beloved friend

Jean Rice (1946-2006)
at her Cape Cod home in Sandwich, MA 
She had been a radical nun whose lifelong hero (and mine) was Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. When Jean died, I wrote this post that I have republished yearly on her birthday. Who she was and how she lived inspire my better instincts daily. And I am missing her. The last winter of her life, fully grasping the implications of her health crisis, she sent her family and friends this message:

Happy Hannukah and Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! All celebrations of life and vigor and weakness and being given what we need. Love to you, and thank you for the love you send.
— Jean

When my pal got the diagnosis that would cut short her amazing life, I could not imagine her (or any) life remaining rich in the final months. Yet it was. Nor, despite a deep friendship more than thirty-plus years with this human force for good did I dream that our "palaver" would continue until weeks before her death and beyond. (We relished using the term, palaver, to describe our chattering with abandon on all matters from wild to mundane.)

Our palaver continues 
This morning in Tel Aviv, I met a friendly puppy named Six "because on a list of rescued animals from which he was adopted, he was number six," his human explained. "Six shuns conflict. He senses kindness, which attracts him." Aha! A perfectly palaver tail/tale for Jean who devoured evidence of positive energy in a tricky universe.

Another example. Last week, I learned that my cousin in Jerusalem (a Bar Mitzva in five months!) had begun chemotherapy treatments for leukemia. I almost immediately reshaped this health crisis update into palaver. Jean, in her living and dying refused to allow grief to immobilize her or others. And her strength and stance steadied me, even after her death.

Pals continuous
Jean was a core friend fluent in the languages of art, philosophy, literature, elephants, children, friendship, memory, and soul. I loved and admired her, learned from her, emulated her. Often, she traveled thousands of virtual miles with me to seek, notice, embrace, honor, encourage, and help at-risk and marginalized people and communities.

In our last phone conversation a month before her death, Jean hurried to answer my questions on her mood and situation. She preferred to focus on what she insisted was far more interesting and important: my family in Israel and how they were managing during mounting crises in this region.

Jean inspired me to keep moving, to acknowledge my mistakes, and to let them go. I have tried to imitate her ways and stances and the richness of her life rooted in gratitude, generosity, and joy, and filled with laughter and compassion.

Jean's many lives defied losses. Grounded firmly in prosocial values and daily practices, she was ever ready to rethink, restart, and reshape plans and outcomes that were not what she expected, liked, or approved of. She was always rebuilding, firming up, reinforcing, and letting go, beginning anew.

The triumphs of her life are measured not merely by the length of her years, but by the marriage she co-created, the children she co-raised, the stubborn optimism of her life, and her legacy.

Jean's life was a gift and her memory is a blessing.

6 comments:

littlepurplecow said...

I love "subborn optimism." Thank you for sharing her life with me.

Yael Fader said...

Keeta-Reading about Jean moved me very much-It was so genuine and meaningful. Te'hee Zichrona Livracha.

Tamar Orvell said...

Stephanie and Yael, Thank you both for coming to learn more about the stubborn optimism of my beloved pal Jean whose spirit soars even while it hovers close by. Jean was The Real Thing, and all encounters with her often brought meaning and humor to a confused state of mind or universe. Her memory is a blessing.

Palmer said...

Thank you so much for reposting your wonderful piece about Jean. I am forwarding to her sister Elizabeth as well as a couple of other people that I know will love it. At this house we'll be thinking about Jean (Mom) all day long.

Anonymous said...

Beautiful, moving, inspiring piece about Jean.... She reminds me of her friend - my friend - Tamar!!

Love,
Joyce

Anonymous said...

Nice piece on your friend. I am coming to appreciate the importance of committing a moment to words as a way of preserving what we cherish.