"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.