Sunday, September 16, 2007

Day of Judgement

There has not been a post here for a while and I don't want this blog to die just yet, so I will recount a few things that have been passing through my mind these past few days.

We have just celebrated Rosh Hashana, the start of the Jewish new year. It is a day of judgement, a day when we stand before God and ask Him to please, please, please write us down in the book of life for the upcoming year. As I was standing in shul (synagogue) during davening (prayer), I found myself thinking about Dr. Schwebel (or Lana, for those who prefer that). I was wondering - what happens to a soul on this day of judgement? Does it get judged, as well? Or was it judged when it passed on from this world up to God and now it is finished being judged? Does it get to interfere with our judgements on earth? Does a soul get to speak on behalf of a living person? And what happened last Rosh Hashana? Was Dr. Schwebel not written in the book of life? If you're written in the book of life, can it get changed sometime during the year or are you guaranteed to live out the entire year until next Rosh Hashana? These were my thoughts as I prayed and, for a period of time, my thoughts were on Dr. Schwebel, on how she was spending this Rosh Hashana, on how she probably - for the first time - was not being judged with the rest of us. It gave me the chills so I soon stopped thinking about it.

I just felt like sharing these thoughts with all of you, especially now, at the start of a new year. I anticipate what this year has to bring and I hope it is only good things, but I am also clinging to the past, to what happened this summer. And out of everything, that I do not want to let go of.

Sunday, August 5, 2007

A Grief Observed?

Perhaps the most jarring thing among the many jarring things I saw at Lana's apartment this week must have been the small collection of books on ghosts, death and spirits, sitting in their very used condition next to her computer. These were the reference materials for her book. When I first made the connection some time back about the topic of her developing book, I couldn't help but pay attention to the blazing irony. Many of her students have commented similarly on classes they have taken with her on loss, memory etc. It is all quite jarring. And as the weeks pass, I begin to form my own sense of understanding for the phenomenon of ghosts and spirits. Because it has been a few weeks and I still cannot shake the sense that she is with me. This is probably mostly because I still can't register the reality, that she is no longer here. But I really feel like she is still with me...of course then there are the moments when I am overwhelmed with the sense that she actually isn't...but many times it is the opposite, and I feel haunted by her, not necessarily in a bad way, but haunted nonetheless. The relationships we form with the dead are bizarre, perhaps even oogy, and "tricky that". When people are no longer physically present, when they revert back to merely the theoretical, we too begin to theorize about them and about our relationship to them; we have the freedom to do that, since they are not physically present to object.

Yet is that really true? An eerie sense trails me that I am not alone in my fabrication, that even in death, relationships continue to be two-sided. And I am not merely speaking about the connection from the past that we carry with us and therefore keep alive and present, and make part of the future. But something real and present and developing, in another sort of way. As people become concepts, we have the unique opportunity to connect to something more essential than in life perhaps, or rather, that we trpically don't or can't connect with in life. The place we wished to get to but could not, intimacy, in the spiritual sense, maybe, just maybe, that happens in death? Whether or not there is a "place" or reality called heaven or hell is not even what I am talking about...and maybe this is actually what they are. But there is a sense that trails us that this cannot be it. Not even in the sense that one day, after death has taken us both, we will be reunited. But we cannot accept that in this life, when one has left, that there is a real stop, and end, that the connections we make have a finitude to them. And don't get me wrong: not the affects of the connection, because we knowe we can keep that going; but the actual connection itself. The meaning we create through connection to people is simply too strong, too stalwart, too real, to be snuffed in an instant by a physical change. It just cannot be. I don't exactly know what I mean; this is all the beginning of my musings on life and death etc. But there are so many moments that I feel that she is with me. And I am not one to believe in any and all of the unrevealed, especially without some sort of empirical proof.

Thursday, August 2, 2007

Comment from Jack Lynch

Thanks to the students at Stern who've started this blog -- Lana Schwebel was one of my closest friends for fourteen years, since we started graduate school together in 1993. She was one of the quickest wits, best teachers, and liveliest people I've been lucky enough to know, and I'm glad to see her students appreciate her. I've been in touch with a few of her friends about finding some more lasting way of memorializing her, probably through Stern, and will be grateful if anyone has suggestions on an appropriate tribute.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Blue Room

Today I went with Shira to Dr. Schwebel's blue office. I don't want to write about that, though. I just, I don't know, I guess I just wanted to mention it.

But what I do want to write about is this song by the Brobdingnagian Bards. I have no idea if Dr. Schwebel knew who they were (though I wouldn't be surprised if she did), but they're basically a small group who sings medieval-style songs and sea shanties, etc. So they've got one song that's a parody of the song "If I Had A Million Dollars." Their song is called, "If I Had A Million Ducats." Ducats, for anyone who doesn't know, were a currency during the Medieval Times. I just really thought Dr. Schwebel would appreciate this song, so I'm posting the lyrics here. It really makes me think of her whenever I hear it:

music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson, words by Andrew McKee, Marc Gunn & Nancy e. Pearsall

If I had a million ducats (If I had a million ducats)
I'd buy you a keep (I would buy you a keep)
If I had a million ducats (If I had a million ducats)
I'd buy you furniture for your keep (Like a Louis the XIV or an armoire)
If I had a million ducats (If I had a million ducats)
I'd buy you a big coach (with all the pretty with fringe on the top)
If I had a million ducats I'd buy your love.

If I had a million ducats (We wouldn't have to hunt for our game)
If I had a million ducats (We'd hunt for sport cuz it's not the same)
If I had a million ducats (We'd have peasants grow food all around the keep)
And we'd have a big garden. (A maze garden)
With high protein-enriched food (like lentils)
And bambi and thumper playing in it.

If I had a million ducats (If I had a million ducats)
I'd buy you a fur cloak But not a woolen cloaks. That's cruel
If I had a million ducats (If I had a million ducats)
I'd buy you an exotic pet (Like a dragon or a leviathan)
If I had a million ducats (if I had a million ducats)
I'd buy a saint's remains (And all those crazy lucky saint's bones)
If I had a million ducats I'd buy your love.

If I had a million ducats (We wouldn't have to walk to the faire)
If I had a million ducats (We'd hire a knight carry us there)
If I had a million ducats (We wouldn't have to get our feel all dirty)
We wouldn't have to walk in the filth.
(We'd have people throw cloaks on the ground like for Sir Walter Raleigh)
Or even better, peasants (on all fours)

If I had a million ducats (If I had a million ducats)
I'd buy you a bed (But not bed of nails. That's cruel)
If I had a million ducats (If I had a million ducats)
I'd buy you some art (a Michaelangelo or Donatello)
If I had a million ducats (If I had a million ducats)
I'd buy you a monkey (haven't you always wanted a monkey?)

If I had a million ducats, If I had a million ducats
If I had a million ducats, If I had a million ducats
We'd be kings.



E7 C

Background: Medieval parody of Barenaked Ladies song "If I Had A $1000000". Original Words and Music by Steven Page & Ed Robertson. One of our most popular live songs.

And here is the site where you can listen to the song.

Monday, July 30, 2007

Missing Lana

At Yale Divinity School, Lana Schwebel was both my advisor and the person I took the most classes with (I took 4 classes with her). She was my mentor, my biggest influence, someone who inspired my teaching and thinking in bold new ways, and someone I loved very deeply.

I of course was no dream student to work with. I was arrogant, angry, bitter, hurting, and I certainly was a rough surface to work with for even the most patient teacher. I was an immature brat, someone who brought many wounds with them to Grad School, who continued to suffer them, but Lana was the person who really kept me together. She could be motherly when I needed it (the unending supply of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, the lemon cookies in her office), she could give tough love when I needed it (often), she knew how to be a true mentor when it was needed (I learned how to write academic papers from her, how to do research), and she knew how to be a friend when it was needed. She was always there to inspire, inform, teach, guide, expand, push, and nurture her students and advisees. What a student owes to a teacher, especially a great teacher like her, can never really be repaid.

Lana was at many times, more often than not by far, a nurturing and inspiring teacher, we did have more than a few really inspiring conversations, she did let me into the Literature program when Philosophy fizzled down around me, led me into the General MA when I thought I wanted to do that, and then let me back into the Literature program when I changed my mind back a month later.

I learned a great deal about Christian Mysticism from her, a lot about pilgrimage, Medieval Christianity, Metaphysical poetry, and the Elegy tradition. We disagreed on whether of not John Donne considered himself playing with witchcraft when he was younger (I said he did), on whether or not Kabbalah had a greater importance in what I called "real Judaism" than she was willing to give credit to, whether Herbert Spencer had naturalist tendencies (I said he did), whether or not Augustine damaged Christianity with his anti-Semtisim (I said he did), but no matter what intense discussion we had I always left her knowing far more about both sides of the argument, this growing feeling that I had really been in the presence of a master.

I have utilized what she taught me in every class I taught, I teach, I carry her lessons and teachings deep within me as a growing academic, theologian, and intellectual. She was an amazing Medievalist, was profoundly passionate about what she believed in, and was well-admired by so many faculty and students alike. Although she is gone, her teachings will live on inside of me for the length of my life. Through me, in her students, the lives she touched, she will live on.

As each day passes since I learned of this news, something really burns within me: a longing for how much of my time with her I could have spent better. Her presence, her brilliance, passion, wisdom, joy, beauty, her zest for learning, backed up by a real competitive and ferocious hunger for learning at all costs that took root within me, that shook me up and made me see that within all her particularities, this was someone of greatness and she made/makes me want to be great.

I miss her so much, and I feel ever-the-more driven now to do something great with my life, to keep her teaching alive. She was an amazing person indeed, every second I had with her was like sitting in the presence of the philosopher's stone.

Peace and Blessings to You, Lana!

You are SO very missed!

Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Tragedy is an ambiguous phenomenon-it devestates you, it drains you, it depresses you, but it also inspires you, and that is when you prevent tragedy from defeating you.Dr. Schwebel was always urging her students to live life to its fullest- take challenges, learn new things, explore the world. The idea that pains me the most is the irony in all of this: I don't understand how someone who loved life more than anybody had her life taken away from her! But I guess you can't find answers to everything, and that is part of the challenge that Dr. Schwebel pushed us to overcome. She would tell us that life is full of challenges, yet you should view them as opportunities rather than obstacles.I really love Dr. Schwebel, and the lessons that she taught me will remain in my heart forever. I ask that each person takes a piece of Dr. Schwebel and carries that piece throughout his or her entire life. Therefore, the memory of Dr. Schwebel will never fade, and her impact on the world will never be forgotten.

Tuesday, July 17, 2007

My Train Ride

I cried a little on the train ride to my internship today. You may think - Erachet? The same one who just posted about smiling in memory of Dr. Schwebel?

I am going through weird emotions - sometimes I want to try to be positive about this whole thing, sometimes I feel complete and utter devastation. This morning, I felt the latter.

Yesterday, I asked the editor of the paper I intern for for a copy of the recommendation letter Dr. Schwebel wrote for me at the beginning of June. I was scared to read the letter at first, not sure what I would see. What I did see actually made me smile a bit. Dr. Schwebel described me in similar ways that I've been describing her now. I keep talking about how Dr. Schwebel genuinely wanted to teach. I could tell she loved having students. And she wrote about me that I genuinely wanted to learn Latin. I wasn't doing it because I thought I had to or because my parents were making me, I was doing it because I thought it was cool. It just made me smile to find out that we were writing similar things about each other without even knowing it.

But today, I feel so angry about what happened to Dr. Schwebel. In some irrational way, I feel like I should have warned her. When she said she was going to be out of contact until the end of July, I should have told her not to go. Obviously, there's no way I could have known, but I wish I had. I wish I could have prevented it. I don't know why I'm feeling this way. It isn't like this is realistic at all. There was nothing I could have done, no way I could have known.

Like Shira just wrote, I feel orphaned by this loss. Dr. Schwebel was the mentor I had never had before. I always wanted to be one of those students who got close to their teachers, but I never was before Dr. Schwebel came to Stern. I was always too shy. Dr. Schwebel allowed me to open up. She was slowly breaking through a barrier I always had around teachers and I truly felt like she was my mentor. I knew she was someone I was going to keep in touch with forever. I really did love her. I looked up to her, I saw possibilities in myself that I had never seen before. She changed me for the better, that's for sure.

But how can God have taken her so early? How can it really have been her time? I wasn't finished learning from her! I still need her! I feel like my safety net at Stern has been stolen from me and now I must get my bearings again, find myself within the school. I feel like a part of me, a part of my world, was taken with Dr. Schwebel.

I am truly crushed.

Monday, July 16, 2007

"Avi Avi Rehev Yisrael uFarashav"

"HaTzi Yisrael Al Bamotekha Halal, Ekh Naflu Giborim." I have been thinking a lot and trying to express the magnitude of what happened in words for the past few days. This seems to be a case where regular language of loss just doesn't suffice. This is the sort of tragedy that phrases like "there are no words", "the world has truly been darkened", "this doesn't make sense", "she was so full of life" were invented for, yet now seem trite in their overuse for other situations. And so there truly are no words. And as a literature and writing student, that is an awfully difficult thing.

Often times, in death, we try to make people seem bigger and greater to us than they were in life. We employ a sort of magical thinking, to create something greater than what was, to make ourselves feel like the person was indeed significant. With Lana, the opposite sort of magical thinking takes place, that is, the magical thinking of minimizing and destruction. For myself, I have found myself distancing more than connecting, lessening the intensity of her memory rather than blowing it up. Because she could not have been any bigger in life than she was. That is why these trite phrases were created for her, and that is why they fall short.

I will not harp on what a stellar educator Lana was in the classroom, how she was the most vibrant person I have ever encountered, how her brilliant mind elucidated and made meaningful otherwise foreign texts, how she came alive in the classroom, and pretty much whenever she talked to anyone, how she was the expert on everything and lived the smartest life I knew of, how she provided two pages of comments for our papers, how in one short year she impacted and drew love from everyone she met at Stern College, how eveyrone is shattered by this, and simply, how she was the best teacher I have ever known. All these things are true but I'm sure have been touched on by others.

To me, Dr. Schwebel was more than that. It amazes me how in one short year we managed to form a bond that translated into my first experience of grief and mourning. When I lost my grandmother I did not cry. After losing Lana, I feel orphaned. Not only was she all of the above but she was someone unique for Stern College. She promised to be that role model for the modern Jewish woman. She spoke both of our languages: the language of tradition and the language of literature. There was understanding, there was empathy, there was growth because of that, something that no other prof. could offer. And so Lana was like a Rebbi to me.

I've always tried to form the sort of connection with a mentor that I read so much about in Tanach and in the Talmud, a spiritual/intellectual/emotional guide, someone with whom I could come closer to truth, someone like R' Yohanan was to Reish Lakish. I feel a tramendous sense of serendipity that our paths crossed for this one year. I thought the world of her. I know she knew that partially, but I don't know how much, mostly because I sensed her need for borders and privacy and was very careful not to cross any. That is why I was so looking forward to next year, to continuing our relationship, to hear her thoughts about so many more things, the sorts of things that I knew only she would be able to speak meaningfully about to me, and to gain from being around one of the most fantabulous people ever.

And so I feel orphaned. I loved her. She was the bestest person I have ever encountered. What a tease. And I only knew her for one year. I almost feel guilty feeling so much emotion because of that. So I guess the only comfort is that she literally changed our lives. She did it. She got to us. To the world, to people, she did the kind of stuff that we hope after this whole tedious phd process is over, after being around for 35 years in the cynical world that distorts so much, we'll still maintain enough heart, clarity and love to do. She mastered the system, she was smarter than it, and she excelled in it because of that as well.

And she did it. She proved that intelligence and heart are one and the same. That living life deep and sucking all the marrow out of it does not need to be done in a forrest. And she proved that she could convince all the people of the same. She is one of the FEW. I still say is because it cant be any other way. A person of biblical and epic proportions. She is not only the brilliant woman who brings us closer to literary truth, but the stuff of literature itself, the sort of person who the most powerful novel would be written about. And that, in truth, is what we in our lives, perhaps some more secretly than others, all strive for.

Letter to Lana from Katherine Stanford

Posted for Katherine Stanford:

July 11, 2007

Dear Lana,

It is extraordinarily hard to write this letter to you, for two reasons. Writing while weeping is difficult. And you cared deeply about your students’ writing, so I long to make you proud, even now. Especially now.

The Talmud says, “Let the hand teach the heart.” You certainly taught me a lot in the classroom, in my very first semester at YDS, coming back to academia—back to Yale—after a 20-year absence. You opened my eyes to a world of possibilities in scholarship, in writing. You opened my heart by guiding our class through a profound history of spiritual autobiographies, writings by centuries of the faithful who had come before us. You teased out my delight in the pedagogical process itself that I had not managed to discover in college.

You balanced patience and a fabulous sarcastic wit flawlessly. I will be forever in you debt for guiding me through the morass of 21st century on-line research, library databases and electronic links. I marveled at your dedication to students like me, answering email queries right up until sunset on your passionately-observed Sabbaths. You were one of only a couple of professors who shared the importance of your religious life with your students, modeling a life of faith in academia.

You also modeled your dedication to our real learning. Asking each of us to meet with you individually, going over our first papers in minute detail, absolutely floored me. No other professor has done so since in my three years here. I was mortified, because sadly for me, I thought it was one of my worst papers ever (it was my first at YDS), but your were encouraging, offering wonderful writing advice. One of my favorite of your tips is something I do frequently, especially now that I’m writing sermons: I print whatever-it-is out in a wild font that I never use, sit in a place I never sit in the house or yard to review my work, then read it aloud, with fresh eyes and ears. Thank you for that, Lana. I always think of you when I do so.

We bonded a little more when we discovered our NYC connection, when I laughed probably a little too loudly at your urbane humor—which was sorely missing in serious-minded academia! When you organized sponsoring Doris Betts to come share her fiction at the YDS Bookstore, I mentioned my husband had written a musical based on a short story of hers. You literally jumped up and down like a 12-year-old, squealing, “Violet?! That is one of my favorite musicals of all time! I listen to that CD all the time! You’re married to Brian Crawley? Wow! Can I touch you?!” I shared your unbounded enthusiasm with my spouse, who was going through a professional rough patch—and it provided a definite boost. Then on learning that you were leaving YDS to teach in the city, I wrote you an email decrying my boo-hoos that I wouldn’t get the opportunity to take another class with you—while still wishing you all the best in following your dreams. You reminded me how much people who live in a city like New York miss it when they’re not there, and that you were thrilled to be able to live and work in your haven.

Your heart was huge and open. I was grateful for the respect and understanding you showed me when my dear friend and pastor died suddenly a month into classes—allowing me to participate in our tiny seminar of nine without speaking for a couple of weeks. I know, I know—I more than made up for that silence by talking your ear off later. Someone who will listen to everyday stories about one’s small children, especially when not a parent herself, is a shining star in my book. Your hospitality was flawless all around, including bringing snacks for all of us on special and not-so-special occasions alike.

Most of all, you were so down-to-earth, Lana—a quality I prize highly, as does God, I’m certain. Why else are we here? The very first day of that fall 2004 course, you asked us to call you by your given name, and happily led us outside for class on the quad, beneath the glorious autumn sun. We had such a great time we continued out there for three weeks, until it finally grew too cold. You shared your little life-discoveries as would a friend—like the importance of owning one really good pair of black dress trousers for interviewing, teaching, or ministry—while maintaining the great respect of your students for your vast expertise. I learned what a blog was on that first day of class when you passed out examples of autobiographical writing, sans sources. (Although I was probably the only one sitting on the grass who hadn’t ever read a blog, I was secretly pleased to identify the John Donne poem.) And I can’t imagine anyone coming close to your ability to “lecture” sitting at a seminar table—apparently without notes—making it seem completely conversational.

Mostly, Lana, I will miss your sardonic twinkle, your radiant smile, your incredible joie de vivre. You seemed to say Yes! to life at every turn. How can we cope with the loss of that life from the world? What does that say about God? How do your family and friends and students come close to beginning to heal from this profound tragedy?

I know what you might say, I think—something along the lines of Read what centuries of the faithful have written for generations… Or write about it... O.K., Lana, I will.

And I will remember you always. God bless you, in your new life-beyond-our-understanding, and God bless your family as their hearts begin to mend.

With love,

Katherine Stanford

M. Div. 2008, YDS

“I’m only learnin’ to say ‘Yes.’

I’m bound to make mistakes,

but I’m bound to try.”


A break from our tears

I was thinking of writing about how devastated I am that Dr. Schwebel is gone and how sorry I am that I'll never have her as a professor again. But then I thought, Dr. Schwebel was not a depressing person. She was always so happy, a real beacon of light. She brightened my mornings countless times. She never seemed to be in a bad mood. So I figured, I spent so much time writing and thinking about how horrible this tragedy is - I'd like to now highlight some nice memories of Dr. Schwebel. There is a time to cry, but there is also a time to smile, and I have a feeling Dr. Schwebel would love it if we could all smile at the memories of her. So this is just a slightly edited segment of something I wrote for a book that was made to give to Dr. Schwebel's parents.

I remember, last summer, looking at my schedule for the Fall ’06 semester and noticing that I had the same teacher for both Survey of English Lit. I and Latin. I admit, I was intimidated. I wanted to take Latin because I thought it was such an interesting thing to know, plus, and I never actually told Dr. Schwebel this, I like writing fantasy stories and I thought Latin would be really, really cool for coming up with magic spells, kind of like what J.K. Rowling does, or even for names of things. Stuff like that. Basically, I wanted to have fun with the language.

But I was scared of having a Latin teacher. In my mind, a Latin teacher would for sure be old and grumpy and particular and it made me nervous that my Latin teacher was going to be my English Lit. teacher, as well. What if I didn’t like her? I’d be stuck with her for two whole classes.

But that was before my first day of school. That was before I met Dr. Schwebel.

Dr. Schwebel was anything but scary. True, her incredible energy for dead languages could be a bit overwhelming at first, but she was filled with this intense excitement to be teaching us that was so, so genuine. I mean, really genuine. I've rarely had a teacher so excited about her own subject before, about having students. Dr. Schwebel was a teacher who yearned to teach. She wanted to share her knowledge which, by the way, was simply overflowing. I mean, one thing was definitely clear from the start – Dr. Schwebel was smart. Brilliant. I’ve rarely had a teacher who amazed me quite as much as Dr. Schwebel did.

Dr. Schwebel was also in the position of being my first ever English Literature professor in college. True, I had had another professor for English Composition the year before, but English Literature was something so different, especially in college. In high school, we basically just read books in English class and spent some time discussing them before moving onto the next book. In college, as Dr. Schwebel taught me (and was then confirmed by my other teachers), you don’t just read books. You learn them. In context. You learn about their authors. You study their time period. What were the people like? What was the government like? How much did religion play a factor? What social class was the author in? Did the author have a love life? Was it a successful love life? (And so often, the answer to that last one was ‘no.’ Weird.) So many things to consider that by the time we were done, I was seeing whatever it was that we were reading in a completely different light. A deeper yet brighter light, if that makes sense.

Of course, we were also all amazed by Dr. Schwebel’s Old and Middle English reading skills. I remember thinking it sounded like a mixture of Dutch and Gaelic – not that I actually know what either of those languages sound like, but hey, that was my first impression. In any case, it made studying Beowulf and the Canterbury Tales much, much more fun. I loved Dr. Schwebel’s fun, witty sum-ups of what the text was actually saying. I loved how she used words like “wonky” and how she called all the really ancient authors, “dead dudes.” She used really fun expressions in general. There was one time where she said, “How’s tricks?” (trix?) and I replied, “Who’s tricks?”

Back to the dead language. Our Latin class started out with four people, including me. After the second day, two people dropped. After the third day, the third person dropped. That fourth morning, I felt a bit ill. I’m very shy and I had no idea what to expect going into class and being the only student there. I wasn’t even sure we were actually having class.

I got there before Dr. Schwebel and sat at my usual seat, smack in the center, one row back from the teacher’s desk (so as not to actually be on top of it). I was nervous and anxious – which is really just me all over. I really wanted to continue learning Latin but I had incredible unease about being the only one.

A few moments later, Dr. Schwebel walked in with all her Latin materials and in her usual cheerful, slightly frazzled manner. I already felt calmer and she hadn’t even said anything yet. I remember thinking: if I’m going to be the only student in a class, I’m glad it’s in this one, with Dr. Schwebel. I just knew, right then, that it wouldn’t be weird. It would be great.

Dr. Schwebel very kindly presented to me my options – she would quite understand if I wanted to drop the class - after all, being the only student is a lot of pressure, but if I wanted, she was more than happy to do an independent study with me. In fact, she said it would be a great opportunity for me to learn one on one, especially Latin which is so hard to begin with. We could go at my pace and work around my schedule. I could tell she wanted to continue teaching me. She wouldn’t just cancel the class even though all her students but one dropped. I had about five seconds to decide. My natural self would have declined, would have shied away from being the only one, from having the spotlight constantly on me, from the pressure of having to do well because I, only I, reflected Dr. Schwebel’s teaching in Latin that semester. And I wanted so badly to do her justice.

But I didn’t shy away. Something in my brain told me, “No, don’t drop this class. This is something that may never happen again. Take a chance. DO IT.” So I did. I said I wanted to continue. Dr. Schwebel grinned, said, “Good. I think this is going to be a great opportunity,” and then started teaching.

I loved being Dr. Schwebel’s only student. I had grown to respect and admire her so much, I thoroughly enjoyed having all her attention during that class time to myself. I guess I was being a bit selfish, but who can blame me? Dr. Schwebel had an energy that infected everyone nearby. It woke me up during her class, even if I’d only had a few hours sleep the night before. And no matter how hard Latin was, no matter how much I complained to my friends afterwards about how Latin was ruling my life, no matter how hard I worked and how often I wondered how much easier school would be if I wasn’t learning an ancient, dead language, I have to say, it was one of my best experiences at Stern. It really, really was.

I remember one time, when I first found out that Harry Potter had been translated into Latin, Dr. Schwebel got excited with me and exclaimed, “I know! Isn’t that neat?” I was just impressed that I was actually talking to one of my professors about Harry Potter. Dr. Schwebel was like that. You could talk to her about anything, really, even if it had nothing to do with class. And we'd sometimes have the silliest debates in class. For instance, one time in English class we were talking about meter in poetry and we got into a debate about the word 'bumblebee' - is it 'BUMBLEbee' or 'bumbleBEE?' Or rather, is it a bee that bumbles or a bumble in bee form? (Personally, I think it's BUMBLEbee, but a nice amount of the class thought it was bumbleBEE). But the best part of that debate was that we were all having a good time. Everyone was having fun - even those who weren't English majors and who probably didn't even like (or didn't think they liked) poetry. They were suddenly getting what it was all about and *gasp* enjoying it, too. Imagine - for some people, for those who hated English and were only taking the class to fulfill the English requirement....poetry? Enjoyable? Dr. Schwebel was excellent at making everything interesting. Even sonnets. Even Latin. Everything. She had a real talent.

I know I will always grin when I remember Dr. Schwebel because I haven't got a single bad memory of her. Only good ones. Only fun ones. Heck, a lot of them are pretty funny. And I just know Dr. Schwebel would want us to take a break from our tears and laugh a little in remembering her.

Go and do likewise

Since hearing the devastating news of Lana's death and being present at her beautiful but heartbreaking funeral, I have been trying to understand what I should carry forward from her memory. I have lost friends and loved ones before, but never before have I felt such an insistent sense that we need to carry forward the gifts and graciousness of the one we have lost. One of the things most captivating about Lana was the effervescent way in which she gave herself over to fascination with people and other cultures, on the one hand, and a life of deep faithfulness, on the other. Are there others who model obedience to God and who cherish the faith traditions of their communities? Sure. Are there others who are passionate about intercultural travel and lively conversation with friends old and new? Of course. But how often do you see both of those enchanting, compelling qualities in a single person? Lana was truly unique in that way.
I would like to share a few words from a sermon I preached yesterday to my faith community in New Haven. I thought about Lana constantly as I prepared it. I will leave in the material about two other colleagues we have lost, because I want to make the point that even though she was so young, Lana stands easily in the company of luminaries who have had a remarkable impact on many generations of students and friends. The sermon was focused in part on Deuteronomy 30:9-14. Here is the excerpt:
"Is it too hard to love God with all our heart and love our neighbors as ourselves? No. Deuteronomy promises us that 'the word is very near to' us, in our mouth and in our heart, and God's blessings will abound when we turn our hearts toward God. Meditating on Scripture, meeting God in prayer, and reaching out to others in compassion is not so hard, if we can only turn our eyes away from the flashy consumerism and narcissism of contemporary North American culture and train our gaze on God. . . .
This week I have been overcome by a profound sense of urgency, a sense that there is not a minute to waste as we try to figure out how to love God and neighbor. In the past nineteen days, three former colleagues of mine have died. The first, Brevard Childs, was a towering figure in Biblical studies, an uncompromising traditionalist who faced sharp criticism during his career but who never backed down from his conviction that the Old Testament should be read theologically. . . . When he died on June 23rd, the world lost one of the great Biblical theologians of our time.
Another former colleague, Letty Russell, was one of the early founders of feminist theology. She dedicated her life to empowering others, first in ordained ministry in East Harlem, then at Yale Divinity School, and finally across the globe, working for the World Council of Churches and developing multicultural learning programs for women in Asia. Letty was passionate about justice and mutuality in relationship. A humble, no-nonsense woman, she didn't give a fig about social status and spoke truth to power bravely, in a forthright, take-no-prisoners manner that made deans and department heads scurry for cover. All she wanted was for oppressed people everywhere to thrive as beloved creatures of God. Letty died on Thursday night.
My third colleague who died, Lana Schwebel, was the most vivacious woman you could imagine. She was a living paradox: a fiercely independent 'modern' woman who loved to travel alone to exotic places, she immersed herself in medieval studies and could talk for hours about ghosts in medieval literature or the sale of indulgences in the Roman Catholic Church. Lana was an observant Jew in the Conservative tradition of Judaism, keeping kosher even though that was almost impossible with the lame cafeteria food we have at Yale Divinity School, and observing the Sabbath despite the intense academic pressure on her to work all the time. Lana had a sparkling and irreverent wit, she charmed everyone she met, and she had boundless energy for connecting with people. She 'walked in God's ways,' as the rabbi said at her funeral. Lana was only 35 years old when she died last Saturday from injuries sustained in a car accident while she was traveling in Siberia.
It's not just the tragedy of these lives cut short that I mourn. It's the terrible loss of that passion for living faithfully that Brevard, Letty, and Lana showed us.
We know we are supposed to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and our neighbor as ourselves. We know we should have an all-consuming passion for living faithfully. But do we realize how short the time is, how our time may be gone in an instant? . . . If we are daunted -- if it seems too hard -- we have only to remember the promise of Deuteronomy: the Word is very near to us. The Word is near to us not only when we study Scripture and pray on it. The Word is near us also in the passions of those who live faithfully: those who dare to challenge what needs to be challenged, those who insist on mutuality in every relationship and work to empower the oppressed, those who dare to offer God's healing love across all boundaries. It's time for us to go and do likewise."
The loss of Lana is beyond heartbreaking. But she gave us a wonderful glimpse into an extraordinary and fascinating life lived faithfully. And we will never forget.

The First Post

Hello everyone. This blog was created as a way of providing people with a venue for expression at this difficult time. Whether it's words of grief, or even a funny anecdote, this is a place for all of us to capture and convey whatever it is we need to. Feel free to post or comment or just to read others' posts and comments. If anyone has any comments or suggestions please e-mail me.

Shira Schwartz
Senior, English Literature
Stern College
Yeshiva University